Oxfam’s view – Haiti: From self-sufficiency to food riots, the impact of liberalisation
Haiti is the poorest country in western hemisphere and has suffered from political turmoil and instability for many years.
In 1995, a rapid liberalisation programme imposed by the World Bank and the IMF cut import tariffs on rice from 50 per cent to 3 per cent making Haiti the most liberalised country in the region. As a result the country was flooded by cheap, subsidised rice imports from the USA. Urban consumers benefited for a while from cheaper rice, but national rice production plummeted. From near self-sufficiency in 1990, Haiti is today forced to import 80 per cent of rice its staple food, just as world prices have doubled. More than half of the population is malnourished, and more than 80 per cent of the rural population live below the poverty line.
The rising prices provoked riots in several cities in Haiti in April this year and forced the resignation of the Prime Minister.
?If people are hungry, they have no stake in stability. They will be ready for anything ? for anarchy ? because they have nothing to safeguard or to fight for,? said Hedi Annabi, the UN special representative in Haiti.
While the entire country is affected, cities ? where the majority of people live ? are especially hard hit.
Agriculture, which employs more than 60 per cent of the Haitian workforce, is one of the areas most affected by trade liberalisation policies. An estimated 830,000 jobs in Haiti have been lost in recent years, primarily in agriculture.
What is Oxfam doing?
In the capital, Port-au-Prince and the town of Jacmel in the southeast, Oxfam is helping families hardest hit by the rising food prices. Working through local partners, Oxfam is supporting subsidised community restaurants (see case study below), school canteens and helping parents pay off debts to schools. Cash-for-work community clean up activities are also planned for several neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince.
In rural areas in the north of the country, Oxfam is organising a cash-for-work canal cleaning project, improving and diversifying crops and vegetables, and improving market links for small farmers.
In addition to these short-term response projects, Oxfam continues to support ongoing local initiatives aimed at improving national agricultural production and livelihoods for rural families through agricultural diversification and market access for small-scale rice, mango, coffee, and vegetable producers.
Case study ? Providing daily meals in Haiti
Judith Alexandre used to make breakfast for her two children before setting off for work as a street vendor in the Carrefour-Feuilles district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. But dramatic increases in food prices mean her children now go without their morning meal.
?I am the sole provider for my children,? she explains. ?Their father died a year ago and now I am alone. If he was here, it would be much easier to manage.? Most of Judith?s salary goes on food, and even then it?s not enough. So they skip meals, a common response to the food crisis.
Judith and 100,000s of people like her in Haiti have been hit particularly hard by the rise in international food prices, especially rice, a staple of the Haitian diet. An estimated 75 per cent of Haiti?s food is imported, and over three quarters of the population live on less than $2 a day. All these factors combined to provoke violent food riots in April 2008.
Oxfam?s humanitarian response to the crisis has been swift, and is focused on supporting people like Judith. Her family receives a daily, subsidised hot meal at one of eight community restaurants supported by Oxfam, and at an affordable price of 5 gourdes (about UK 7p). ?It?s unthinkable that I would be able to buy a meal for my kids for 5 gourdes,? says Judith, smiling. ?It means that every day I have been able to save a little bit of money for other things ? now not all of my money must go on buying food.?Run by a local organisation, the restaurants provide immediate relief to those families hit hardest by rising food prices. They open from 10.00am to 12.00pm, four days a week, and serve up 200 meals a day, ranging from cornmeal and fish to bouillion, a hearty Haitian vegetable stew.