by Haiti Grassroots Watch
During the past year or so in Haiti, as humanitarian actors raised an alarm about hunger, Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) journalists kept hearing complaints and rumors about the misuse, abuse, or negative effects of food aid. HGW journalists and the community radio members who worked with them decided to investigate.
Why – when the country has received at least one billion U.S. dollars worth of food aid between 1995 and the 2010 earthquake – is hunger on the rise? Who are the actors in the “hunger games” in Haiti and internationally? What can be done that isn’t currently being done?
HGW and its partners visited two programs funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which recently ended or are ending this year. This week, we will publish in Haïti Liberté a report entitled “Food Voucher Program Hurt Farmers, Favored US Exports,” an investigation of a CARE food coupon program in Grande Anse called “Tikè Manjè” (Food Voucher) at first and later called “Kore Lavni Nou” (Supporting Your Future), which ended in August. Another article,“Why is Haiti hungry?”, provides background on the issues involved.
Next week, we will publish another investigation entitled “Questions About World Vision’s Targeted Food Program,” about a World Vision feeding program on La Gonâve and in Savanette that targets pregnant women, mothers, and young children. It is part of that organization’s five-year “Multi-Year Assistance Program,” slated to wind up at the end of 2013. Two other analyses, “Measuring Hunger” and “Aid or Trade? The nefarious effects of three decades of U.S. policy” will accompany that piece.
Food Voucher Program Hurt Farmers, Favored U.S. Exports
A “test” food voucher program in the Grande Anse département (province) on Haiti’s southern peninsula promoted consumption of imported rather than local food for almost 18,000 families, despite claims to the contrary.
In addition, the program – run by CARE with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and supposedly meant for victims of the Hurricane Tomas who had lost their crops – did not begin until 11 months after the storm hit on November 5, 2010.
The program launched in October 2011, when food security was improving. The “Food Security Outlook” report for that period – July-December 2011 – noted that parts of Grande Anse were “stressed,” but went on to say that “with the promise of more or less satisfactory harvests in Grand’ Anse [sic], the upper Artibonite, and the Southeast, food security conditions in these areas are expected to improve between October and December.” The report is one put out every three months the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), a U.S. government-run office that predicts hunger and famine in conjunction with the Haitian government and USAID.
Despite the improved forecast, CARE launched “Tikè Manje” (“Food Voucher”) program, which later changed its name to “Kore Lavni Nou” (“Supporting Your Future”). Funded by USAID, it also had the endorsement of the government’s “Aba Grangou” (“Down with Hunger”) leadership. After a timid beginning in October 2011, the program got into full swing in the spring of 2012 – 16 months after Hurricane Tomas – a year-long Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) investigation determined.
HGW asked the head of the government's Aba Grangou program why CARE’s program was allowed to start so late.
“The project was meant to help people affected by Hurricane Tomas,” Director Jean Robert Brutus admitted. “By the time the project started, Grande Anse had probably already started to recuperate. But since it had already been set up, the U.S. government decided to implement it.”
When CARE was asked why Grande Anse was selected, rather than other areas of the country – notably the Northwest, which habitually suffers from extreme hunger – the program’s coordinator, Tamara Shukakidze, said that CARE and another USAID contractor chose Grande Anse to carry out “a test” after the hurricane caused damage. In interviews with HGW, Brutus also used the word “experiment.”
The program “is simply a test in certain regions to see if we can implement the program everywhere in the country,” explained Shukakidze in a March 2013 interview, while the program was still ongoing. At the time, CARE was hoping to be a contractor for a future USAID-funded US$20 million “social security net” program that will include food vouchers, CARE spokesman Pierre Seneq told HGW.
People get imported food, government gets a 10% cut
Some 12,000 families were chosen by CARE and community leaders for the Kore Lavni Nou program, reportedly according to the following criteria: families with no or little land, with two or less animals, and/or with a child head-of-household or family members who were disabled, extremely elderly, HIV positive, or had other challenges.
Each beneficiary received a monthly voucher worth 2,000 gourdes (about $US46.51) that could be redeemed at specific merchants for specific quantities of rice, vegetable oil, beans, imported dried herring, corn meal, pasta, and bouillon cubes. HGW research in several Grande Anse communes revealed that almost all the products came from U.S. producers. (HGW was not able to visit every single Kore Lavni Nou store.)
U.S. law stipulates that almost all U.S. food aid must be U.S. grown and processed food.
Like many other food voucher and cash transfer programs in the country, CARE signed a contract with the mobile telephone company Digicel to assure the cash transfers. In addition to paying Digicel for those services, the CARE program – and all others – have to pay the Haitian government 10% on all “mobile money transactions, including transfer to beneficiaries, vendor payment, and cash out,” according to a 2013 USAID report.
After Hurricane Sandy caused damage to some Grande Anse farms in October 2012, CARE extended the program with a “Phase 2,” adding 5,708 people to the roll, meaning that a total of 17,708 beneficiaries in Grande Anse received food coupons up through the end of August 2013, according to CARE spokesman Seneq. (Another 8,000 families in the Artibonite and Northwest provinces were also added to the rolls for the period April 2013-end of October 2013.)
“A total of over US$5 million will be directly distributed to families facing food insecurity,” Seneq explained in a Jun. 18, 2013 email.
According to the USAID 2013 BEST report, CARE received US$7.4 million for the Grande Anse program.
Program criticized by farmers, agronomists, others
Dejoie Dadignac, coordinator of Rezo Pwodiktè ak Pwodiktris Agrikòl Dam Mari (ROPADAM – Network of Dame Marie Agricultural Producers), told HGW that the food voucher program represents “a terrible threat” to Grande Anse farmers.
ROPADAM was one of seven organizations that signed a four-page document denouncing the program in July 2012. The organizations said they were shocked that their communities had been targeted since, according to Haitian government documents, “not one of the communes is classified as having ‘extreme hunger.’”
“As everyone knows, Grande Anse is a breadbasket for vegetables and fruit,” the organizations noted in their press release. “And we see that this food aid program is taking place during our harvest months, when a lot of vegetables and fruits go to waste.”
More shocking to Dadignac and the organizations was the almost exclusive promotion of foreign food.
“At every little store we visit, even ones that used to sell cement or tin sheeting, we see a sign: ‘USAID,’” Dadignac told HGW in September 2012. “In their radio advertising, they say they are giving people plantains and breadfruit, but that’s not what we see. We see rice, spaghetti, oil, while our products are left out.”
“We thought other departments would be coming to get our products to take care of the hunger problem," Dadignac added. "We didn’t think we’d end up seeing all this imported food here!”
A CARE press release from 2012 claims that the “program supports consumption of locally produced, traditionally appropriate, products which are readily available in all communities.” However, visits by HGW journalists to stores in two communes during Phase 1 and two communes during Phase 2 did not find any “locally produced” food aside from Haitian spaghetti, made with imported wheat, and – in some, but not all locations – beans.
Asked if CARE used or was planning to use local food, spokesman Pierre Seneq confirmed that mostly imported food was utilized in the current programs, but that CARE was planning to source some local food in future programs.
Jean Robert Brutus, head of Aba Grangou, also admitted that the Grande Anse programs mostly used foreign food.
“Everyone wanted [the program] to use local food, but the market could not always provide it,” Brutus told HGW. He also said that people cannot be forced to buy one thing over another.
“We don’t force people who have vouchers to buy local products, but we encourage them, and we encourage the distributors to make local products available,” Brutus said. “We need to make an effort to guarantee producers that their products will be competitive with imported products and will be purchased, so that they start to produce again.”
Brutus did not give details on how Haitian rice and other local products would be able to compete with the highly subsidized and/or cheaply produced foreign food.
In the meantime, the agronomists in Grande Anse are as despondent as Dadignac and other farmers. “It’s true, there are places in Grande Anse where people are hungry,” agronomist Vériel Auguste admitted.
Veriél is a member of a farmers cooperative. Like every farmer and agronomist contacted by HGW, he bemoaned the use of foreign food to help hungry people, since it undercuts local production, makes people dependent, and, in the long run, contributes to even more hunger.
“They call the program ‘Down with Hunger,’ but to me, it’s a ‘Long Live Hunger’ program,” he said.
Auguste also pointed out that the province has a lot of cultivable land sitting empty, in part because cheap imported food undercuts Haitian production, and in part because Haitian farmers get no technical support from the government.
“A long time ago, every week we would see four boats loaded with food leave [Jérémie] every week, and there would still be food left on the wharf!” he said. “Not any longer… but the land is there. It can still be farmed.”
Agronomist Jean Wilda Fanor, who has worked in Grande Anse for over 25 years, said much the same thing.
“Instead of an Aba Grangou program that promotes imported food, the government should help develop the internal market so producers can sell their products,” said Fanor, who currently works for Entraide Protestante Suisse (Swiss Protestant Aid).
Questioned by HGW in June 2013, the head of the government’s Coordination Nationale de Securité Alimentaire agency (CNSA or National Coordination for Food Security) also expressed reserves about voucher programs that favor U.S. food.
“The objective is to allow people to buy local food,” CNSA director Pierre Gary Mathieu said. “If it is poorly targeted and people buy imported rather than local food, then it penalizes local production.”
Mathieu said he was aware of the “deviation” in Grande Anse, which was a “very bad” experience, but added that thought it had been corrected. However, as noted above, Phase 1 and 2 of CARE’s program were identical.
Beneficiaries and Vendors Happy
But the program does have its cheerleaders. In publicity materials, CARE lauds its program, which undoubtedly did feed families. And of course, store owners were very pleased.
Silvain Julien said his store became part of the program in March 2012 – 16 months after Hurricane Tomas.
“The program is going very well, and people are asking me if it will continue,” Julien said. His store was packed with bags of Tchako rice from the U.S.-based cooperative Riceland, one of the world’s largest rice exporters and the largest recipient of U.S. government farm subsidies. According to Oxfam Senior Research Marc Cohen, between 1995 and 2010, Riceland collected over US$500 million from Washington.
Julien said Kore Lavni Nou “really helps people… not only the beneficiaries, but also me, as a businessman. I used to sell 50 sacks [of rice], but now I sell 100 sacks. So business has really improved.” Program beneficiaries were also pleased.
HGW wanted to investigate whether all beneficiaries were indeed victims of hurricanes Tomas or Sandy, and/or if they fit the CARE criteria. Due to lack of time and human resources, a survey with a representative sample was not possible.
However, HGW did note that Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which also carried out a USAID-funded food voucher program in the region, said there were signs of some corruption in a report given at a September 2012 food voucher workshop sponsored by USAID. A CRS PowerPoint obtained by HGW noted that “partisan infiltration of beneficiary” lists was one of several challenges.
Not all Kore Lavni Nou beneficiaries were willing to speak openly. But at one household in Chambellan – where at least two voucher beneficiaries lived together – Marie Edith Dubrevil was happy to talk. She represented herself as someone living in “misery,” and told HGW that her region was “miserable.” She said that she started getting coupons in June or July 2012, about 18 months after Hurricane Tomas, thanks to a church worker.
“Every now and then one of the supervisors would check to see if my name got onto the list,” Dubrevil said. “Two months ago my name came up... Now, thanks to the program, I get rice, and it’s good rice… I wasn't able to eat that kind of thing because I am poor, but now, thanks to CARE and USAID, I applaud them, because my life has changed!”
Dubrevil and her aunt, 89-year-old Louima Leon, who is also a beneficiary, said that before the program, they mainly ate breadfruit, plantains, sweet potatoes, yam, and taro. “Now we eat rice, beans, and cornmeal,” Leon said. [See Aid or Trade? for more on diet changes]
Imported supplants local
Since the earthquake, the U.S. alone has provided US$22.5 million worth of food vouchers to 179,000 people, according to the 2013 version of the USAID-BEST Analysis, a report on USAID-funded food aid produced every year.
While the CARE program focused on imported food, some programs have utilized – at least in part – locally produced food. The CRS food voucher program in Grande Anse allowed beneficiaries to buy yams and potatoes, according to the agency’s report, made public at the September 2012 workshop. (HGW was not able to look into the CRS program.)
Another report, from Action Contre la Faim (ACF), described a post-earthquake program for 15,000 families who received “fresh food” vouchers. Merchants included street vendors (most of whom are women) as well as shops.
Other food aid programs in Haiti use locally procured food. In 2012, the World Food Program (WFP) bought over 27% of its food locally, according the BEST report. The WFP is also piloting the purchase and distribution of local milk as part of the national school meal program.
In their written report on the workshop, Aba Grangou representatives Frisnel Désir and Rédjino Mompremier expressed their concerns, noting that the programs reviewed were all short-term, “with no integration of regional production and with no exit strategies. In other words, once the project is over, the beneficiary will return to his or her original situation.”
Désir et Mompremier also called for more focus on local products and on outreach to promote the use of local rather than imported goods.
“People who are hungry clearly give imported products more social value," they wrote. "The integration of local products needs to be accompanied by other measures related to production and to transportation all the way to the point of sale in the future.”
Jean Robert Brutus, director of Aba Grangou, told HGW that everyone “learned lessons” from the Grande Anse program. Brutus promised that the new food voucher program will promote local food as much as possible, and will be “structured in a way that encourages food producers in the region to produce food.”
“If [a farmer] knows there is a guarantee that people will buy, he will produce,” Brutus said.
So far, details of new program have not been announced, but as of this writing, it appears the current U.S. Farm Bill will be extended again, meaning that most U.S. food aid programs will need to use U.S. products.
Agronomists Auguste and Fanor both told HGW that Grande Anse farmers will need more than a “guarantee” to improve their output. Both said the government must intervene to deal with the structural issues. But neither the government nor foreign agencies have yet announced any major agricultural projects aimed at increasing production in Grande Anse.
As he walked around his demonstration plot, Auguste talked excitedly about the potential of the peninsula. But he was also very worried, because every year he sees more people leaving their fields, nailing shut their fences, boarding up their homes, and leaving for the capital.
“If we don’t root out the structural causes and try to solve them, we are going to become like Savane Desolée,” said Auguste, referring to an arid region near Gonaïves whose name in English means “Desolate Savannah.”
Fanor called on the government to build roads, help with irrigation systems, and create seed banks. “The state has a major role to play,” he told HGW.
In the meantime, the farmers in the ROPADAM network continue to farm and to promote their products, like “verichips” – similar to potato chips but made with breadfruit (called “lanm veritab” in Kreyòl).
“We are the breadbasket for Haiti,” Dadignac told HGW. “We have a government that has given up. We need agronomists, technicians, who can help us produce more. We need agricultural stores where we can find seeds and things. That’s what should be in the government’s program.”
On Sep. 27, USAID announced the launch of a new program, “Kore Lavi” (“Support Life”). CARE will work with the Ministry of Social Affairs to, among other actions, “reach approximately 250,000 households by providing food vouchers,” USAID said in news release.
HGW asked CARE if the new program would be like the “test” program in Grande Anse, with an emphasis on mostly imported food. CARE promised a response via email by Oct. 5, but then never followed through.
Marie Edith Dubrevil holds up coupons and cards from a CARE food program in the Grande Anse. She and her aunt said that, before the program, they mainly ate breadfruit, plantains, sweet potatoes, yam, and taro. “Now we eat rice, beans, and cornmeal,” Leon said.
Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW)
Why is Haiti Hungry?
Last May, the United Nations announced “6.7 million Haitians face food insecurity.” Aid organizations, development agencies, and the media mobilized with articles, videos, and “urgent appeals.”
Thanks to some measures, and also some good weather, the numbers have likely improved slightly since then. Recently, the Coordination Nationale de Securité Alimentaire (CNSA or National Coordination for Food Security) announced that rice and corn harvests are up from the year before. (However, they remain below previous years.)
Nevertheless, with terrifying charts and dire warnings, officials continue to say that in 2013, twice as many Haitians as last year – some 1.5 million people – continue to face “severe” or “acute food insecurity,” and that many millions more are considered food insecure. At least one-fifth, and in some areas, one-third, of all Haitian children are “stunted,” meaning that they are underweight, shorter than they ought to be, and the development of their brains and other organs will likely be affected.
Hunger has also become part of the political football game in Haiti.
Speaking on May 10, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide criticized the government for not addressing the hunger problem and gave a thinly veiled warning, quoting a Haitian proverb: “When a dog is hungry, it doesn't play around."
President Michel Martelly responded a few days later, saying Aristide was telling “a lie” and that he is also responsible since “he spent ten years in power.” (Actually, Aristide did not spend ten years in office. Both terms were truncated by coups).
While statistically hard to verify, many reports say hunger in Haiti today is more pervasive than it has ever been in the last 50 years.
Doudou Pierre Festil, a farmer who is also member of a national peasant movement and the coordinator of a network of about 200 farmers associations and other organizations known as Réseau National Haïtien pour la Souveraineté et la Sécurité Alimentaire (RENAHSSA – National Network for Sovereignty and Food Security), says “the government is 100% responsible” for hunger in Haiti.
But the reality is more nuanced, the causes of hunger more structural.
Everyone has been aware of Haiti’s brewing food crisis for years: Haitian agronomists, economists, farmers, and government officials, foreign donors and humanitarian agencies. Over they years, Haitian and foreign “experts” have designed projects, written grants… and they have also executed contracts and been well-paid for their services.
Over the past four decades, donors have spent billions of dollars on “food aid,” “development aid,” “humanitarian assistance,” and a host of agricultural programs.
Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) and many others know that the causes of hunger are structural, some of them dating back to the earliest days of the republic. They are also interrelated and linked to larger economic issues in the country and in the world. While it is not possible to explore the causes in depth in this series, here is a summary of the most obvious causes.
1) Poverty. One-half of the population lives on less than US$1 per day; some three-quarters live on less than US$2 per day. With little to no buying power, Haitians who do not produce their own food do not have the income necessary to buy even basic necessities. One thing that makes Haitians poorer, a recent UN mission report noted, is that “basic social services” – like education – have to be purchased, further stressing poor households.
2) Haiti’s land tenure system and lack of correct land-management. According to Bernard Ethéart, an expert on Haitian land issues and former director of the Institut Nationale de la Réforme Agraire (INARA – the National Institute of Land Reform), Haiti’s land tenure system is a “complete disorder that has been going on for 200 years.” Ethéart claims that most land belongs to the government, because ever since independence, various dictators have stolen, illegally “sold,” or given away parcels to their families and their allies. Haiti has no land registry. In the countryside, land security is quite low because many “owners” do not have titles or have titles that are out-of-date. In addition, a great deal of farmland is either state land leased from the government, or is “owned” by large landowner (grandon) who then rents it or has sharecroppers (known as “demwatye”) work it. Thus in many cases, farmers are not invested in the land. Studies have shown that farmers working leased, rented, or share-cropped land are less likely to protect it from deforestation and other practices that weaken the soil and the environment. Another challenge is the fact that “private” land is divided into tiny plots because Haitian law says all offspring have a right to inherit a portion their parent’s land.
3) Neoliberal trade policies. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the U.S. government have pushed neoliberal economic policies on Haitian governments since the 1980s. In 1995, under pressure from Washington, the Aristide government dropped tariffs on many food products to zero or near-zero: making then the lowest tariffs in the Caribbean at that time. A 2006 Christian Aid report noted: “[T]he results of lowering agricultural tariffs in Haiti have been disastrous.” Trade liberalization is directly linked to decreased agricultural production, increased rural poverty, an exodus from the countryside into city slums, and increasing hunger, according to Christian Aid and many other experts. The radical policies came on top of 200 years of having what Haitian economist Fred Doura calls an “extraverted” economy, which is “exploited and dominated” by foreign countries, their economies, their currencies, and their needs: first France, then the United States. In Haïti – Histoire et analyse d’une extraversion dépendent organisée, Doura says that Haiti’s dependence is cultural, technological, financial, and also economic, given that since its inception, much of the country’s production has been exported while its necessities were imported. Doura laments: “The neoliberal globalization of the economy has reinforced the vise of Haiti’s dependence.”
4) Population increase coupled with stagnant or declining agricultural output. This has taken place due to many interrelated reasons, including:
- The land tenure system.
- Decades of an overall lack of government and donor investment in agriculture. For example, during the first half of the 2000s, the Agriculture Ministry received only 4% of the budget, while agriculture and rural development accounted for only 2.5% of official development assistance. A 2009 UN mission deplored “the abandon of agricultural sector and of national production for the past three decades.” The mission also noted that the approach of the government and various organizations at the time was characterized by “multiple strategies and programs which are sometimes contradictory and by endless conferences which do not deliver any concrete results.”
- Antiquated methods and techniques, lack of access to fertilizers and improved seeds, and other challenges due to the lack of state support.
- Lack of efficient and maintained irrigation systems.
- Crop loss due to the lack of a road system that can safely and efficiently get produce to markets and/or the lack of adequate food storage facilities.
- Lack of enforcement of a tree-cutting ban, and the lack of an energy policy, which discourages charcoal as an energy source, both of which contribute to deforestation.
- Vulnerability to tropical weather events like droughts and flooding due to massive deforestation and other results of failure to manage the environment.
- Declining soil quality caused, in part, by increased run-off due to deforestation.
- Emigration of youth from farming areas due to lack of schools, other services, and economic opportunity, and the ensuing lack of farmers and farm workers in the countryside.
5) Negative impacts from various food aid practices over the past 55 years
Other failures or negative results of “aid” mechanisms. The Haitian government told the UN mission that foreign donors shy away from budgetary support and that this is one of many stumbling blocks. According to the UN Office of the Special Envoy, in 2007, for example, bilateral donors gave only 3% of their aid to budget support, while multilateral donors gave only 16%. All the rest of foreign aid went to agencies and projects. Also, the 2009 UN mission criticized a decade or more of focusing on “emergencies” rather than structural causes of hunger, declining agricultural production, environmental degradation, and other linked structural issues. The mission also criticized the results of “the perverse mechanism of handouts like farmers waiting for free fertilizer, the failure to clean certain canals in the hopes that an NGO will pay for it…”
6) Internal market inefficiencies, especially what one U.S. government report called “oligopolistic practices” by food importers. The rice market, for example, is dominated by three major import companies, which are controlled by three members of Haiti’s elite. A 2010 study noted that “rather than undercutting one another’s prices, Haiti’s major importers collude to agree on prices.” This results in local prices that are unnecessarily high and are sometimes much higher than on the international market. One importer admitted to the study author: “If this were the U.S., we would go to jail.”