As the “background of the United States” the Caribbean is close in location but also closely interacts with the US in terms of international politics. Haiti is presently the poorest country in the western hemisphere. It struggles with issues of poverty, natural disasters, food production, poor healthcare and food insecurity. As a rich hegemonic power the US has historically provided aid, including food aid to poor and needy countries. Considering their geopolitical relationship, the US has been administering food aid to Haiti for decades.
Food aid should not be overlooked as a kind act of charity provided by richer countries to developing world, but instead as a political tool powered by the ever present demand of need and hunger. The United States has created an especially exploitative aid structure which allows for the US economy and its agricultural industry to benefit from administering aid. This paper looks to critically analyze Haiti’s economic situation, and food insecurity, looking at how interactions between Haiti and the US affected the economy.
Looking at US foreign policy, particularly the US Farm Bill and its food aid programs, the United States can be seen as partially responsible for Haiti’s poor economic situation and specifically its recent issue of food insecurity. This paper will argue that the United States used food aid, under the US Farm Bill, as a political tool to benefit themselves, subsequently causing Haiti to fall into a state of food insecurity.
This paper will present Haiti’s ability to feed itself prior to the 1980’s, the history and structure of the US Farm bill and its food aid programs, how US food aid was used to exploit Haiti and destroy its domestic agricultural sector, and finally recommendations for improvement. Haiti holds important historic presence in the western hemisphere, as it was the first slave colony to achieve independence and abolish slavery in 1804. From the historic period of the Haitian Revolution, from 1791 to 1804, emerged the independent state of Haiti.
A price was paid for Haiti’s successful revolution and independence. France demanded to be paid for their lost property after the revolution, causing the country to spiral into an overwhelming amount of debt. Despite this Haiti was a self-sufficient country in terms of its ability to feed itself, especially its production of rice. As Haiti was originally a plantation colony to France, the country was rich with many agricultural goods. Sugar cane, banana plantations, tobacco farms, rum distilleries and rice plantations could be found throughout the country.
Peasants also sold goats, cow hides, coffee, castor bean oil, and aloe . All these foods were mostly produced by rural farmers. In Haiti both men and women participate in the entire process of farming. This means that even more of the Haitian population is directly involved in agriculture production, as there was less gender based discrimination in the sector. Although Haiti was by no means a rich country it was managing to feed its population through the domestic production of food.
By 1980 most of the plantations had disappeared, there was increasing malnutrition in the country and the peasant economy was destroyed. This drastic change is capability to provide both work to the rural community and to feed the county leads one to ask, what changed for Haiti during this period? Rice was an important part of Haiti’s agricultural production. Again before 1980’s Haiti was mostly self-sufficient in its rice production. The production of rice served as a backbone to the Haitian economy, as around twenty percent of the population was directly involved in the rice industry.
This provided jobs for Haitians, especially for the rural population. Rice had been cultivated in Haiti for over two centuries, and was a staple food of the Haitian diet. A sharp change in Haiti’s rice production was seen in the 1980’s. It was not that their was a lack of ability for Haiti to grow rice, a grain that had been grown on the island for centuries, the issue was that domestic rice was now competing with lower-priced foreign rice. This rice was being imported from Haiti’s powerful neighbor, the United States.
Through the United States foreign policy and uniquely structured food aid, the United States had pushed out the local rice farmers as they were not able to compete with their prices. At first glance you may think this was good for the country. During this period Haiti was still a poor and underdeveloped country. Cheaply priced food, especially a staple food, would benefit the public as they would have to pay less to feed themselves. What needs to be considered is the amount of jobs lost by pushing out domestic rice farmers.
Again twenty percent of the population was domestically involved in the production of rice. This high amount of lost work is detrimental to any country but especially a country in a fragile position such as Haiti’s. Haiti had now become an import dependant country to feed itself, another concerning position to be in. Following this shift in the 1980’s Haiti would soon find itself in a position where it was importing eighty percent of its rice and sixty percent of its overall food.
As US food prices rose and Haitian farmers continued to be pushed out of the market, Haiti soon found itself in a dangerous position where many of its citizens could not afford to feed themselves. Although the US had been administering aid to Haiti for decades before 1980, this had not previously affected Haiti’s rice industry. Between 1980 and the late 1990’s Haiti went from being self-sufficient in the production of rice, to Haitian farmers no longer being able to feed themselves or the population. Haiti has shifted into a position of concerning food insecurity.
Presently food insecurity continues to be a persistent issue in Haiti. The country currently ranks third from the bottom on the Global Hunger Index.. This disastrous shift can be partially considered result of US foreign policy and food aid. The very program that claims to be serving the purpose of alleviating hunger actually worsened the situation. Due to the structure of US Food aid, its presence in Haiti was able to benefit US farmers and corporations at the cost of Haiti’s farmers and food security. The United States has been a large global provider of food aid for seven decades.
During the post World-War II era the contemporary US food aid program was launched. The contemporary program in marked by a shift from food aid as emergency response to food aid as long term agricultural development. The United States initiative of providing food to needy countries can be understood as a political tool of power spreading globally. Need is a business in high demand. As hunger and food security become a more pressing concern, especially in the global south, answering this call of need can not be look at purely as charity.
Both the donor and recipient parties are benefiting from the aid. It can be observed the the powerful western countries, such as the United States, that provide this aid are seeing more benefits than the countries receiving aid. The United states is the largest donor to Haiti in rural development food security and agriculture. Food and agriculture are essential and central to Haiti’s development. Food aid is held as a section under the US Farm Bill. The food used for aid is produced mostly in the US where domestic farms receive large subsidies for their food.
Because of this US Food aid has largely reflected surplus agricultural production of the US donor economy, and the political power of domestic interest groups within the United States. The US Farm Bill is renewed every four years. Over time many changes and developments can be observed in US food aid programs. Different presidents and other political factors can have a large effect on the food aid programs. There are multiple programs held within the US Farm Bill. For example the Food for Peace Act (FFPA) or P. L. 480 has been apart of the US Farm Bill since 1970.