Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Island That Couldn't Feed Itself

A remarkable thing happened last week and it was detailed in an article by Jonathon M. Katz in the Huffington Post.  Bill Clinton is continuing his work in Haiti to help direct the humanitarian assistance following the earthquake and develop plans to improve the perennial "Failed State" status of this troubled country. 
Katz Reports:

Decades of inexpensive (food) imports – especially rice from the U.S. – punctuated with abundant aid in various crises have destroyed local agriculture and left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to feed themselves. 

It looks to me like Haiti is the reverse of Cuba.  Isolated by trade embargo and the collapse of Communism, Cuba was forced to feed itself - without petroleum based agriculture.  Katz Continues: leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere.

They're led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton – now U.N. special envoy to Haiti – who publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti's rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged the impoverished country to dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice.

This is remarkable since it is a 180 degree reversal of global trade policy that included NAFTA, which Clinton campaigned for and the US, Canada and Mexico signed into law in 1993.  Clinton said:

"It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."

Local farmers were put out of business, told they could not compete. And the island, which had not been dependent on rice or imported food aid before, is now importing 51% of all the food it consumes. Many local farms are gone and the farmers have moved to the cities. 

Clinton's goal was to import cheap food to feed a poor population while creating a market for US rice farmers. But now, there is nothing for Haiti to build a sustained economic recovery on. So this week, Clinton will go to the UN to seek millions to invest in rebuilding local agriculture to end reliance on imports.

Even Haiti's most powerful food importers have joined the push for locally produced food.
"I would prefer to buy everything locally and have nothing to import," said businessman Reginald Boulos, who is also president of Haiti's chamber of commerce.

The effort will also be part of a new UN backed initiative to support local agriculture in poor countries.  But what about us? 
Is our farming economy any better off than Haiti's?  How much food do we import now? What has happened to local beef, hog, egg, chicken and dairy producers as cheap imports have flooded our markets?  And how much money will it cost to rebuild what we are allowing to die through neglect?  Haiti raises those questions.  And Bill Clinton, the man who says that he alone is responsible for bringing us to this point, is looking for the answers.  


Mark & Sally said...

Love this entry. Too close for comfort with the downturn of the livestock sectors here on PEI. Thanks for bringing a real life example of what happens when we push our farmers out of business!

John Quimby said...

Thanks for stopping in,

Isn't that amazing?
As someone not raised to farm I can only add that farmers are a resource not easily replaced. You can't wave a magic wand and make more. After 10 years I'm just a beginner.