U.S. Holds the Key to Rebuilding Haiti and Its Rural Economy

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), April 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

U.S. Holds the Key to Rebuilding Haiti and Its Rural Economy


Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Annalise Romoser

In Eugene, spring has arrived and renewal is in the air. Oregon gardeners are turning their soil and eagerly monitoring the seedlings they have planted with care.

In Haiti, it is also planting season. Tubers and maize should be sown soon, and farmers are longing to plant. But the mass migration caused by the Jan. 12 earthquake, coupled with a history of misguided agriculture policy, has left rural Haiti in shambles. Instead of planting this month, people in many rural communities, including those my organization works with, are eating the seeds they had reserved for planting.

The situation is desperate. Delayed planting in the countryside means hunger for all Haitians.

The United States has shown an unprecedented outpouring of support for Haiti. The Red Cross alone has received more than $350 million in donations, and President Obama recently submitted a $2.8 billion supplemental request to Congress for recovery in Haiti. This is all good news, but it is not enough to overcome the poverty that plagues Haiti.

To both ensure the immediate availability of food and to foster long-term development, Congress must make rural development the cornerstone of U.S. spending and policy for Haiti.

Haiti has long been the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti is also the only country in our hemisphere with the vast majority of its population still living in rural areas. And it is the rural economy that employs 79 percent of all Haitians - most earning less than $2 a day.

Even as hunger plagues rural Haiti, it is clear that the country's economy and future lies in the countryside. Haiti's own Poverty Reductions Strategy, implemented in 2008, identifies rural agriculture as one of Haiti's main pillars of development.

In decades past, rural Haiti fared far better than it has in the last 20 years. In the 1980s, Haiti was nearly self-sufficient in food production, and health indicators were on the rise. But today, Haiti imports more than half of all foodstuffs. Also as recently as the 1980s, Haiti grew all of the rice needed for national consumption, whereas today 80 percent of all rice - a staple in the Haitian diet - is imported.

Why? The United States has subsidized its rice farmers to the tune of over $11 billion and forced Haiti to take down trade barriers, thereby flooding the Haitian economy with cheap U.S. rice. This has left Haitian farmers unable to compete in their own country's markets. …

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