Rebecca Shetler Fast is the Haiti co-representative. This article is part of our ongoing series on food security and climate change.
MCC is working in Haiti support both farmers and vulnerable school children in an innovative new pilot project that takes food from soil to table. MCC Haiti Country Representative Paul Shetler Fast explains; “the goal of this project is to amplify MCC’s impact; by giving advance contracts to MCC supported farmers to deliver local rice, beans and peanut butter on a monthly basis, local food that is then supplied to MCC supported schools for vulnerable children.”
Deep agricultural roots
Over 50% of Haiti’s adult population depends on agriculture as their primary means of subsistence, but they face great challenges in making a living and achieving food security for their own families. Haiti suffers from chronic food insecurity and insufficient food markets, which hurts both poor rural farmers and vulnerable urban consumers.
“We can grow food, but without access to markets and these kind of supply contracts, it is almost impossible for these farm families to make the long-term investments they need.” states the director of PDL, an MCC partner that works with farming cooperatives.
It may be surprising to learn that until the 1980s, Haiti was a net food exporter. However, due to the triple challenges of international dumping of surplus agricultural products, unfair economic relationships, coupled with environmental degradation, Haiti has found itself caught in a cycle of food insecurity, under-investment in local infrastructure and agriculture, and continued reliance on free and subsidized food aid—which devastates farmers.
Farmers without markets
Santyago is a robust farming community with fertile soil in Northeast Haiti, it is a 5 hours rock-and-river studded drive from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital and market center. On a recent trip to Santyago, the road crossed a river 11 times. Given these challenging road conditions, it comes as no surprise that hard working farm cooperatives in this area have been stifled by their inability to get their products into market in the quantities they need to sell them.
The current market network available to many rural communities is so limited that farmers are barely able to get a price above the cost of production at harvest, and are forced to sell due to lack of storage facilities and the need for short-term cash. Farmers then have to buy back food for home use and replanting later in the year at peak prices (leading to ever decreasing stocks available for replanting).
This market limitation is compounded by a long-standing connection between natural disasters, well intentioned food aid and a highly vulnerable agrarian population. In times of disaster often the quickest and easiest response is sending food aid, a provision that can be very helpful, but when done poorly, serves to undermine and exacerbate the problem, making Haitians farmers even more vulnerable when the next disaster strikes, and thus creating a cycle of diminishing capacity, and dependence.
Food insecurity in urban children
While farmers in Haiti work increasingly hard for diminishing yields, vulnerable populations, particularly children, in urban areas are also affected by these market issues. In Haiti, nearly 50% of the population is malnourished, with 22% of children stunted due to chronic malnutrition, according to the World Food Program. This situation is even more grave among Haiti’s most vulnerable children and young people, including street children (served by MCC’s partner TIMKATEC) and children involved in the restevek system of domestic servitude (served by MCC’s partner FOPJ). As urban Haitians are increasingly dependent on imports (Haiti now imports as much as 80% of its staple grain, rice, according to the World Food Program), it is increasingly vulnerable to price shocks in the international markets. And when prices change rapidly, vulnerable urban children are often the first to be impacted and to go hungry.
Connecting two MCC partners with one project
Shetler Fast notes: “This project aims to fill a gap, and form a bridge between MCC’s commitment to sustainable rural agriculture and the urgent need to address malnutrition and food insecurity among the most vulnerable populations, specifically street children and children involved in the restevek system in the Port-au-Prince region.”
MCC’s work in Haiti for the past 59 years has supported both rural farmers and urban schools, but these efforts have never been connected. MCC’s new pilot project purchases rice, beans and peanut butter from a network of farmer owned cooperatives in Haiti’s North and Northeast. These cooperatives represent 25,271 member farmers and their families who work together to pool agricultural resources and labor ensuring high quality products, safety standards, and fulfillment of monthly deliveries of locally grown food to MCC partner schools. The MCC partner schools receiving this food, provide hot lunches every day with this food contributing to the 100,000 school meals annually they serve to vulnerable children.