The New Today


Food security in Haiti

A sharp deterioration of the security situation since June 2021 has severely affected livelihoods in Haiti and reduced availability of food.

According to data published by the FAO in March 2023, more than half of the crop producers reported difficulty in selling their harvests, primarily due to insecurity.

Gangs have gained control of major roads that connect the capital and to other parts of the country, reducing the supply of food and fuel, and constraining access to markets and to basic services.

Amid the political instability, the security situation is likely to deteriorate, with a detrimental impact on the food security situation.

I first had an opportunity to visit Haiti in the year 2011 when the Government of Haiti requested technical assistance from the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) to visit that country to discuss the establishment of a Standards Bureau.

It was suggested that myself, who at that time was the Director of the Grenada Bureau of Standards (GDBS) and Mr. Gene Hutchinson (formerly the Director of the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS) undertake the proposed mission and activities. Unfortunately, I was unable to do so because of other pressing commitments.

In 2013, the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), the body responsible for the promotion of trade and economic development of the Caribbean Community granted approval for Haiti to harmonise its national tariff with the CARICOM’s Common External Tariff (CET).

Being a Member of the CARICOM, Haiti was obligated under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to apply the CET in accordance with the guidelines set out by COTED. As a result, two years after the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, I was part of a CARICOM Mission heading to Haiti, to provide technical support to that country, during the harmonisation exercise.

The Mission was headed by Mrs. Desiree Field-Ridley, Advisor, Single Market and Sectoral Programmes, CARICOM Secretariat (photo to the left) and included Mr. Bernard Black, Senior Project Officer for Customs and Trade Policy at the CARICOM Secretariats.

Additionally, Haiti’s Ministry of Trade had advised of the urgent need for traders to be sensitised on matters involving the CARICOM Common External Tariff (CET) and the regional trade in goods regime. Therefore, to effectively prepare stakeholders to become compliant with the intra-regional trading requirements related to regional Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures, CARICOM decided to include a SPS expert on the team.

Based on our findings, the production of agricultural produce for trade in Haiti was low due to recent drought problems. As a result, technical assistance was needed to increase production, e.g., addressing the problem of deforestation, before Haiti is able to produce in sufficient quantities to trade with its CARICOM Member States.

Additionally, Haiti did not seem to need the CARICOM Market urgently. It had market access to the USA, Canada, Switzerland and the EU where transportation of produce was easier.

However, because of its large population, trade from other CARICOM Member States to Haiti can be given priority. In such a case, technical assistance will be needed in setting up a Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) Unit in Haiti and in developing a list of regulated pests as well as a National Pests list.

It was also suggested that a list of the agricultural products to be traded should be supplied to CAHFSA (see picture of CAHFSA Headquarters in Suriname to the left) so that specific SPS measures necessary can be suggested.

Finally, Haiti was facing serious transportation problems in its efforts to reach the CARICOM Market. This problem will have to be addressed urgently to facilitate trading. Any assistance to Haiti at that time in regard to SPS issues should be linked not only to the CARICOM Market but also to the international markets where Haiti also enjoys preferential treatment.

Related:  The impact of electronic media violence on children

I took the opportunity to meet with Dr. Abimbola Abiola, (see photo below) the IICA Representative in Haiti. He was appointed as the Representative in Haiti from March 1, 2016. Abiola is a Canadian citizen but is originally from Nigeria.

He assumed duties in Haiti after serving as the Institute’s Representative in Suriname. His office in Suriname was very close to CAHFSA’s office so we met regularly during his stint in Suriname to discuss agricultural trade and food security.

Abiola told me that he was very enthusiastic about working in Haiti, and that he considered his mission in the country not as a challenge, but rather as an opportunity to make a significant contribution to the development of the agricultural sector in that country.

He mentioned that IICA implemented a USAID project in Haiti which involved the distribution of seeds of a variety of beans to farmers, over fifty (50) tonnes of highly productive varieties after Hurricane Matthew. He further mentioned that the countryside was livable and more peaceful but Port au Prince and other cities were different.

After Haiti’s independence, King Charles X (1824-1830) forced the Haitians to pay France 150 million gold francs (reduced to 90 million gold francs in 1838) under threat of military invasion and restoration of slavery. This “independence debt” is today estimated by some at several tens of billions of euros.

The first request for “reparations” was made by Haitian President Aristide, shortly before the 2004 coup d’état, for an amount of 27.2 billion euros.

Hurricane Matthew, which left hundreds dead in Haiti, as well as a powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake which devastated the capital, claiming approximately 300,000 lives, have left the people very resilient and willing to rebuild their country.

Haiti is blessed with many educated people in arts and sciences. People are their main export outside of mangoes. Historically, it was lumber but every lumber tree has been cut and any other wood now turned into charcoal.

Some foreign investors were making clothes, but this has been affected by the violence. A lot of their revenues have been used to pay France for their freedom.

Street battles between anti-government gangs and police have crippled Haiti’s fragile economy with United 1Nations officials saying half of the country’s more than 11 million inhabitants don’t have enough to eat and 1.4 million are starving.

A total of 4.9 million people in Haiti – nearly half of the country’s population – are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity, according to a new UN-supported report.

This means that households face large food consumption gaps resulting in high acute malnutrition and excess mortality or are forced to adopt negative coping mechanisms to cover food needs, such as selling off assets or eating seeds instead of planting them, increasing their vulnerability, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

With 75 percent of Haiti’s population living in rural areas, urgent measures are needed to save lives and quickly restore the agricultural livelihoods of vulnerable farmers, FAO warned.

Simeon Collins a former Director of the Grenada Bureau of Standards and the first Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA), a CARICOM Institution. The views expressed in this article are that of the author