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Feeding Dependency, Starving Democracy: 1997 Executive Summary

March 2010

CARE has been “helping” people in the Northwest for decades. But each year, the misery of the people of the Northwest increases. What is the real impact of this aid? To make people more dependent, more vulnerable, more on the margins?…The aid is not given in such a way as to give the people responsibility, to make them less dependent….This is what you call “commercializing” poverty….The people’s misery should not be marketed…. – Samuel Madisten, Haitian Senator

1 Summary Research Findings

Statement of Purpose

In 1996 Grassroots International began an extensive six-month research and investigation project in Haiti. Our primary objective was to understand how programs funded by the U.S. government are affecting food security in Haiti. Given the massive scope of those programs since the restoration of democratic rule three years ago, our goal was to see for ourselves what impact that programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) were having on Haiti’s poor, particularly small farmers and peasants.

The research was conducted by Laurie Richardson, a Grassroots International Research Associate and writer based in Port-au-Prince. Fluent in Haitian Creole, she has been studying the impact of U.S. policy on Haiti’s pro-democracy movement since 1991. For this project Ms. Richardson traveled throughout Haiti’s Northwest and Artibonite regions, interviewing hundreds of peasants, members of Parliament, economists, government officials, community organizers, development workers, agronomists, and representatives of international private voluntary organizations.

Extensive bibliographic research – including some conducted at the USAID library in Port-au-Prince – allowed us to study the philosophy behind USAID programs in Haiti, particularly food-aid and jobs-creation programs.

What We Found

Despite glowing reports from USAID that its field programs in Haiti are succeeding, our research found that those programs are not furthering equitable development, nor are they increasing food security. Three years ago the United States sent troops to Haiti with the stated intention of restoring democracy. The sad reality is that current international aid policies are robbing the Haitian people of independence – and the very community initiative that is the cornerstone of autonomy. Most troubling, in this hemisphere’s hungriest nation, U.S. policies are undermining, instead of enhancing, the ability of Haitian farmers to grow and market their goods.

Grassroots International’s research documents how U.S. government policies and aid programs interfere with the production of local food crops and create a dangerous dependence on U.S. food imports. Grassroots International also found serious problems with food aid and other assistance programs, and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) implementing them. They are, in fact, derailing community-based organizations that are the real engines of progress and Haiti’s only hope for sustainable development.

Foreign aid programs – and the “free-market” economic policies that they are conditioned upon – are exacerbating social tensions in Haiti, as was shown by the anti-austerity strikes in mid-January of this year. Ultimately, such development strategies are threatening to undermine Haiti’s chance to build democracy by driving a wedge between the government of President René Préval and the Haitian people.

These policies are also contributing to the exodus of Haitians from rural areas. As the World Bank stated in a recent draft strategy paper, the rural majority has “only two possibilities: work in the industrial or service sector, or emigrate.”

2 Summary Findings

1. Throughout the rural areas surveyed by Grassroots International, farmers reported tremendous difficulty competing with cheap, subsidized foodstuffs imported under new tariff schemes. In the case of rice, for example, dramatic reductions in tariffs since 1995 have made imported rice cheaper than before, undermining Haitian rice farmers. Not only do these imports reduce the price that Haitian farmers receive for their rice, but they also depress the prices they receive for other key cereals, such as millet and corn. Spiraling food imports also consume much-needed hard currency; rice purchases now eat up 15 percent of Haiti’s import budget.

2. The U.S.-based NGOs that carry out most USAID programs do not adequately consult or coordinate with local, regional and national Haitian government authorities.

Grassroots International’s survey revealed consistent complaints that foreign aid programs, generally implemented by private agencies such as CARE and the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), largely bypass relevant Haitian governmental entities, often putting resulting development projects at odds with stated national, regional, and local priorities.

Given the size and scope of international aid in Haiti – approximately 60 percent of the Haitian government’s budget comes from external sources – this not only produces ineffective development programs but also undercuts the very democratic process the U.S. government says it wants to build.

3. USAID programs do not respond to Haiti’s stated priority of revitalizing national agricultural production; only 4.3 percent of the USAID’s four-year US$ 443 million aid package is destined for agricultural development.

Although Haiti’s government and community organizations have clearly stated that their top development priority is revitalizing agriculture, USAID is devoting only 4.3 percent of its four-year budget to agricultural projects. By contrast, food aid makes up 13 percent. The failure to invest in agricultural development further weakens the efforts of Haitian farmers to increase domestic production.

Our primary findings about U.S.-funded food aid and jobs-creation programs are:

4. U.S. food aid depresses local prices for basic grains, reducing incentives for Haitian farmers to grow them.

Food security analysts acknowledge that massive deliveries of U.S. wheat to Haiti’s government under the Public Law (PL) 480 Title III program drive down prices for rice, millet, and other cereals in Haiti. Grassroots International’s research found evidence supporting widespread complaints that PL 480 Title II food aid – aid distributed by U.S. NGOs, – also undercuts the prices for locally produced staples. This has discouraged Haitian farmers from growing basic grains, increasing Haiti’s dependence on imported food.

5. Food aid shifts consumption patterns away from locally produced goods in favor of imported goods.

This well-documented phenomenon was clearly evident in the communities Grassroots International surveyed. The massive distribution of surplus U.S. wheat has fostered a taste for products that can only be produced with this imported staple. As Haitians incorporate these products into their diets, growers of local grains such as corn – which grows well in Haiti’s mountainous terrain – have seen shrinking demand for their products. This breeds dependency, undermines food security and creates an unsustainable reliance on imported food.

6. Private aid agencies consistently operated jobs-creation programs in rural areas at key planting and harvesting times, pulling people out of their fields with the lure of relatively high short-term wages.

Peasant farmers surveyed by Grassroots International repeatedly complained about temporary NGO-supervised employment projects. Short-term projects were run by PADF in rural areas during periods of peak agricultural activity. The relatively high wages paid by these projects lured farmers and farm laborers out of their fields. This in turn reduced the amount of land planted, left ripe crops rotting in the fields, and increased the labor costs for those farmers who tried to compete with wage levels paid in the jobs programs.

Grassroots International also found that many of these infrastructure projects were poorly designed and had little long-term impact. In one case, local residents were paid to dig drainage ditches during rainy season. Runoffs from the rains filled the ditches with rocks and soil almost as soon as the project was completed.

Camille Chalmers, head of the Haitian Platform for Alternative Development (one of Grassroots International’s partner organizations), observed, “We saw with our own eyes the quantity of rice which is ripe but rotting in the fields because the peasants don’t have enough money or can’t find people to work in the fields. [This] creates the paradox of rice rotting in the fields in a country where there is hunger.”

7. USAID-funded programs stifle local initiative with short-term offers of free food and employment, creating cycles of dependency among Haitian farmers.

Over and over, Grassroots International heard complaints from local peasant and community leaders that USAID-funded programs for jobs creation are changing Haitians’ attitudes about community work. These programs pay people for work previously performed out of a sense of concern for their villages. Grassroots International also heard consistent reports of poor families and small farmers who began to rely heavily on food aid distributions and paid less attention to increasing their own food production.

“Instead of spending two or three years teaching people to fish, [these NGOs] prefer to give them a ‘fish’ every day….The people who are working to produce…come to the conclusion that it is better to go get a plate of food, a fish, instead of going out to fish themselves,” notes Haitian Senator Samuel Madisten from the rice-growing Artibonite region.

8. Private aid agencies frequently fail to consult or work with local community organizations; instead they either directly implement projects themselves or work closely with discredited local elites.

Though most development professionals acknowledge that the involvement of local communities is essential to the success of any development project, U.S.-funded programs in Haiti regularly fail to consult with or involve appropriate local leaders and organizations. In community after community, Haitians painted a picture of U.S. aid workers as outside “experts” who impose their own projects with little regard or respect for local priorities or institutions.

More disturbing still, Grassroots International found a consistent pattern of unsavory alliances between U.S. agencies and local elites associated with the deposed military regime. The choice of such “partners” by U.S. agencies not only produces ineffective development projects but also destroys democracy at the local level by reinforcing the power of undemocratic leaders at the expense of democratic, community-based organizations.

3 The Role of U.S. Agencies

The following flaws were of particular concern:

• failure to consult with and involve local communities in the design, implementation and evaluation of projects;

• failure to identify correctly and respond to local needs;

• failure to sufficiently monitor the impact and effectiveness of projects and make needed changes;

• frequent selection of Haitian counterparts who not only lack community support but are closely associated with the former military government; and

• failure to coordinate with local and regional Haitian government bodies, thereby creating projects at odds with stated Haitian priorities.

At a time when U.S. foreign aid programs are under fire from conservatives, the community of private aid agencies in the United States has a particular obligation to ensure that all funds, whether from taxpayers or private contributors, promote long-term, community-based solutions to hunger. Projects must foster self-reliance and community initiative, strengthen local democratic institutions, and break cycles of dependency. The programs Grassroots International reviewed in Haiti rarely contributed to these goals; in many cases, they did the opposite.

Grassroots International, which as a matter of policy does not accept U.S. government funds, believes that one of the strongest factors contributing to private aid agencies’ ineffectiveness in Haiti is their dependence on U.S. government funding for programs. This often leaves private aid organizations more beholden to U.S. government policies than they are to the communities they are trying to assist.

In Haiti, this has led CARE, PADF, and others to support projects that are clearly undermining rather than contributing to Haitians’ courageous and admirable efforts to achieve food security.

4 Recommendations

The U.S. government should not condition its aid to the Haitian government on the implementation of policies that undermine Haitian food producers and weaken the development of democratic institutions in Haiti. The U.S. government should end pressure on Haiti to reduce tariffs, particularly on food. Haitian food producers should be protected from subsidized U.S. imports while they rebuild their productive capacity. Policies should cease to emphasize short-term emergency programs, including jobs and food aid, in favor of long-term, small-scale development. All programs should be designed and carried out with the full participation and approval of the affected communities, in ways that strengthen Haitian organizations and institutions – including the Haitian government – particularly at the local level. Aid programs should support Haitian food producers by increasing their access to:

  • land, by supporting a comprehensive land-reform program designed to transfer quality, arable land to small farmers;
  • affordable credit;
  • appropriate technology and training;
  • infrastructure improvements, particularly irrigation and roads;
  • soil restoration and reforestation programs, to improve soil fertility;
  • farm animals, particularly indigenous creole pigs;
  • seeds, tools, and farm machinery to help recapitalize peasant households;
  • and food storage and marketing support.

5 Conclusion

With appropriate support, Haitian farmers can increase production of and access to affordable basic foodstuffs. Haiti’s people, the majority of whom still make their living from the land, want desperately to develop their own self-reliant communities and a nation that is not dependent on foreign funds or food.

If the United States government and U.S. NGOs are truly committed to building democracy in Haiti, they must rethink their current misguided policies and practices, which are undermining both food security and democracy in Haiti.

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