Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

World Food Programme seeks to build long-term food security in Haiti

By Rebekah Mintzer, MediaGlobal

Survivors of the Haiti earthquake pick up beans spilled during initial food distribution relief efforts in Port-Au-Prince. The UN World Food Programme is working to ensure that an already hungry Haitian nation will have increased food security in the coming months. (UN Photo/Marco Dormino)

Nearly three months after the devastating Haiti earthquake, the world development community is looking for ways to feed a nation that struggled to feed itself even before the disaster struck. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the organization essential to feeding so many in Haiti during the initial emergency response period, is currently negotiating the shift towards creating longer term food security in the country in close partnership with the Haitian government. WFP plans on feeding 2.1 million Haitians per month in the near future, and the situation is being complicated by the imminent hurricane season, which could undo progress that has already been made on the ground.

According to the UN Office for the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN- OHRLLS), Haiti has been lagging behind on socioeconomic indicators for many years, ranking 149th out of 182 countries on the U.N.’s Human Development Index, with an “alarming” rate of child malnutrition and mortality. Life expectancy in Haiti was the lowest in the Americas even before the earthquake caused havoc. Half of Haitians are also employed in the agricultural sector and largely depend on rain to successfully grow crops, making their livelihoods vulnerable to any changes in weather or economy.

“As WFP moves beyond emergency food assistance to a longer-term food security strategy, the focus will be on investing in Haiti’s human capital,” Jennifer Parmelee, a senior spokesperson for the organization told MediaGlobal in an e-mail. “This new strategy includes boosting local agriculture production and supporting local markets across the country as well as providing safety nets for the most vulnerable.”

Essential to the WFP’s plan for bringing stability to Haiti are the cash-for-work and cash- for-food programs. These programs provide food and money to individuals in need in exchange for their work on infrastructural, environmental and agricultural projects or in exchange for time spent learning new skills that will benefit themselves or the community. Food-for-work programs will be scaled up to employ 26,000 people in Haiti this month, increasing to 140,000 workers in coming months, according to Parmelee. In addition to cash-for-work and cash-for-food, the WFP is feeding some 65,000 Haitians in hospitals as well as 20,000 Haitian children who are now living in orphanages. Children who are in school will be provided with daily meals in both rural and urban areas of the country.

Another investment in Haiti’s future food security will be local procurement of food called purchase for progress (P4P) by the WFP. This market-based strategy, practiced in many of the countries where WFP maintains operations, involves WFP purchasing food directly from local farmers, in exchange for cash. P4P provides reliable markets and good prices for surplus crops, and in the process smallholder farmers gain knowledge, experience, and connections with regional farmers’ associations that will help them in the future.

In the coming months however, the progress that Haiti has made in building food security could be easily derailed by hurricanes, which can be potentially disastrous, as they turned out to be in 2004 and 2008. “As an LDC and a Small Island Developing State, Haiti is extremely vulnerable to external shocks,” Cheick Sidi Diarra, UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Countries and Small Island Developing States said. “Countries which fall into either category suffer the concomitance of structural weakness and economic vulnerability. Thus, the consequences of external shocks whether they be natural or man-made are catastrophic.”

According to Parmelee, WFP is preparing for by readying food supplies and trucks in case of heavy rains and hurricane conditions: “In addition, WFP is working against time to consolidate the successes of its food-for-work programs that—before the earthquake struck—had achieved extensive agricultural rehabilitation… For example, farmers need to plant the new terraces with bushes and trees that will take root before hurricane season strikes to stabilize them—or face a new wave of destruction that will set the clock back again on Haiti’s environmental and agricultural future.”

The massive projects that must be undertaken in Haiti require hard work on the ground and a great amount of funding. “Despite the world’s generosity, WFP still urgently needs cash contributions for the Emergency Operation in order to implement cash and food for work projects planned in April, as well as support for its logistics work on behalf of the wider humanitarian community,” Parmelee said. WFP is also seeking out more NGO partnerships to help them carry out the planned operations on the ground in Haiti.

“The challenge to rebuild Haiti is indeed an enormous undertaking not only for the United Nations, but for the entire globe,” said Diarra. “But this challenge is not insurmountable, however, as long as the international community is willing to sustain its support and commitment to Haiti’s development on a long-term basis.”

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