Efforts to lead Haiti to self-sufficiency face a slew of chronic obstacles, including political gridlock or instability, severe environmental degradation, neglected rural infrastructure, and chronic natural disasters. Now we can add peanuts to the list.
Due to provisions in the US Farm Bill, American peanut growers can forfeit their crop, (i.e. give it away) rather than repay federal loans that are used to finance production and storage costs. And after a booming growing season, the US is sitting on 16,000 metric tons of peanuts, a good portion of which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to ship to Haiti through its “Stocks for Food” program.
Peanuts play a central role in Haiti’s economy and are a critical foundation of its food security and food sovereignty. Our partner, the Haitian Platform to Advocate for Alternative Development (PAPDA), reports that 150,000 Haitian farmers currently produce 70,000 metric tons of peanuts annually.
We joined 60 other organizations in demanding the USDA cancel the shipment on the grounds that it would have devastating consequences to Haitian farmers, especially women, whose livelihoods depend on peanuts and the production of mamba (Haitian peanut butter).
Peanuts provide financial security and are a means to get cash quickly. For example, farmers can receive between $4.00 and 6.50 for five pounds of peanuts. By comparison, the same quantity of corn nets just $.80. Fleurimond Conserve, a lifelong farmer in Haiti, summed it up this way: “Once you have a peanut plant, you have a heart at ease.”
Haitian Farmers Question US “Gift”
The USDA’s effort to provide aid to Haiti is not explicitly tied to a long-term strategy to create a sustainable school meal program in Haiti. While the 2014 Farm Bill included a local and regional procurement program that could be used to build sustainable farm to school linkages using local peanuts in school meal programs, Congress has routinely underfunded this program. During the 2016 fiscal year only $5 million was allocated, less than one percent of in-kind food aid.
This has led to suspicions about the USDA and USAID’s motives behind their potential peanut shipments to Haiti. Haiti already has a complicated relationship with foreigners who provide aid and there is no shortage of Haitians who insist the United States, which occupied the country from 1919 until 1934, has a vested interest in keeping the island nation economically dependent. “If the U.S. really wanted to help Haiti they would focus on serious work improving irrigation and farmers’ access to credit,” said Camille Chalmers, the Executive Director of PAPDA. He also argues that the peanut aid is mainly about drawing down the U.S. stockpile and benefiting American agribusiness.
Although nearly 80 percent of rural households farm, the agriculture sector with its persistent litany of natural disasters receives less than 4 percent of Haiti’s budget. This is part of the reason why focusing foreign aid on the local production and local procurement of peanuts instead of the proposed “commodity dumping” is so important.
Our partner PAPDA joined a delegation of organizations for a meeting on June 29, 2016 with high-level members of the Prime Minister Cabinet and the Minister of Agriculture in Haiti. They discussed the reaction to a letter sent by dozens of NGOs, including Grassroots International, on May 27 to the USDA and USAID calling for the cancellation of the planned USDA shipment of 500 metric tons of peanuts to Haiti.
After the meeting, the delegation that advocacy targeting USAID and the USDA is offering opportunities for a fairer and more sustainable deal aimed at the strengthening of this value chain and the actors. The meeting discussed minimizing planned surplus dumping to only one shipment within specific conditions to avoid significant impact on people’s livelihoods.
The shipment of 500 metric tons of peanuts from the US to Haiti is scheduled to arrive in mid-August. The Minister of Agriculture and other members of the Prime Minister’s cabinet mentioned that they will not accept other shipments beyond the one that has already been planned.
In response to the acceptance of this initial shipment of peanuts from the US, a letter urging against the acceptance of this shipment and any further shipments has been addressed to Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture and signed by over 60 Haitian organizations. It remains to be seen if the shipment will negatively impact the Haitian economy as many fear or if protests from Haitian farmers will mitigate its effects.
Krystal Kilhart has been volunteering at Grassroots International since June 2016. She is a current sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies and International Relations. She is passionate about environmental justice and human rights advocacy.