April 12, 2010
Dear Congressional leaders:
As you consider the FY 2010 Haiti Supplemental for the Department of State and USAID, we urge you to allow for greater flexibility in how we deliver food aid, by permitting local or regional purchase of emergency food aid for Haiti, and the use of emergency non-food assistance, including vouchers, cash transfers, or safety-net programs.
The primary purpose of US food assistance to Haiti should be to address Haiti’s shocking nutrition and food security problems. Nearly half the population is undernourished. One-third of newborn babies are born underweight. The World Food Program estimates that 2.4 million Haitians are food insecure.
Although Haiti has large urban areas, Haiti is predominately a rural and agricultural society. More than two-thirds of Haitians rely on agriculture for their livelihood. In past years, Haitian farmers produced most of the country’s food, and consumers ate a wider variety of staples and starches. In the last 20 years, cheaply imported rice has overtaken other starches and cereals and undermined Haitian farmers.
There’s no reason that Haitian farmers shouldn’t feed Haiti again in the future. And US food assistance can play a positive role, rather than contributing to the growing import dependence and declining rural sector. But to play a more constructive role, US food assistance must be flexible.
The earthquake could exacerbate Haiti’s dependence on U.S. imports and foreign aid. Or the assistance and reconstruction can assist with rural development, building a stronger agriculture sector and reducing food insecurity. Imported rice from the United States has been a key part of the humanitarian aid response so far, and this food aid has been urgently needed in the short term to avert hunger. But as Haiti rebuilds, Haitian farmers in the countryside could be the ones feeding the people in Port-au-Prince. But they’re hampered by the absence of credit, antiquated tools, damaged irrigation systems, prohibitively high fertilizer prices, subsidized rice, and food aid that undercuts their sales.
Haitian President Rene Preval recently urged President Obama and other donors to stop providing food aid by the end of March in order to make room for purchase from national producers and help to let the Haitian people help themselves in the long-term.
As the world’s biggest food aid donor, our nation plays a vital role in responding to emergency food needs in Haiti and around the world. Developing a more flexible approach to food aid for Haiti, including local and regional procurement of food, could help make our foreign assistance efforts even more effective, more accountable, more efficient, and more likely to ensure that people who need assistance get it quickly, all while supporting Haitian farmers and citizens.
American Jewish World Service
Bread for the World
Center for Economic and Policy Research
Church World Service
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Environmental Justice Initiative for Haiti
Food and Water Watch
Foreign Policy In Focus
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Lambi Fund of Haiti
Lutheran World Relief
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Mennonite Central Committee US Washington Office
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Justice Peace/Integrity of Creation Office
Partners in Health
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Washington Office
Quixote Center/Haiti Reborn
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Washington Office on Latin America