News / Americas

Food Aid Hurts Haiti's Farmers

Helping in a crisis can pose dilemma for local farmers and merchants

Rice farmers can be adversely affected by food aid.
Rice farmers can be adversely affected by food aid.


About three hours north of Port-au-Prince, the Artibonite Valley is the center of Haiti's rice production.

This season, farmer Charles Surfoad is storing his rice rather than selling it. He says food aid from the earthquake relief effort produced a glut that pushed down prices.  If he sells now, he says he'll lose money.

Adverse effects

"Food aid is never good for us," he says. "As a farmer, I'm one of the first affected. You can't send that to a country where that's what they grow."

Surfoad says if he can't sell his rice, he won't have money to buy seeds for next season. And because he supplies about 50 neighbors with seeds, their next season will be affected, too.

The entire supply chain can be affected, from farmers to wholesalers to merchants selling rice in local markets, many of whom say business is down because people are receiving free rice from donors.

Food is one of the most urgent needs in a humanitarian crisis. But, these cases illustrate that when donors bring in food, those who make a living growing and selling food can suffer.

Impact of food aid

"There is a risk, definitely. And we are very aware of that," says Brooke Isham, director of the Food for Peace program at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). "And that is why we are always looking at the impact of food aid on local markets and whether it is depressing prices in local markets."

USAID, the UN World Food Program (WFP) and others monitor markets regularly. Etienne Labonde, head of WFP's program in Haiti, says, as of March, food aid did not cause major disruptions in Haiti's economy. "Maybe it's an impression, but it's not the facts at the moment," he says.

Low prices can lead Haiti's farmers to store rice rather than sell it at a loss.
Low prices can lead Haiti's farmers to store rice rather than sell it at a loss.

Whether impression or fact, Haitian President Rene Preval raised the issue when he came to Washington last month. He said food aid was indispensible right after the earthquake. But, "If we continue to send food and water from abroad," he said, "it will compete with national production of Haiti and with Haitian trade."

Scaling back

Donors have agreed to scale back. But experts say donors can help the needy and a nation's farmers at the same time if they buy food for humanitarian aid locally rather than importing it.

The European Union, Canada and the World Food Program buy locally when possible. But the United States, which is the largest provider, "is lagging a little bit behind the curve of good practice in food aid," says Marc Cohen with the advocacy group Oxfam.

Rice merchants at local markets in Haiti say food aid cut into prices and sales.
Rice merchants at local markets in Haiti say food aid cut into prices and sales.

U.S. food aid consists almost entirely of American grain. Cohen says that started in the 1950s, when the United States had "what were called, 'burdensome surpluses' of food. So, food aid was, first and foremost, a mechanism to get rid of those surpluses," he says.

Congress is considering legislation to allow U.S. food aid to be bought locally.

Meanwhile, in Haiti, many donor agencies are pursuing another strategy to avoid market disruption. They're creating jobs so Haitian people can buy their own food. Many of these jobs are aimed at helping farmers at the same time: improving agricultural canals, rural roads, and planting trees to prevent erosion, for example.

The question now is whether there will be enough jobs so Haitians can support themselves, or whether the country will again face the dilemma of food aid.

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Panama Condo Owners to Trump: You're Fired!

Directors of luxury condominium development say mismanagement, overspending and undisclosed bonuses executives paid themselves prompted decision

Rescued Chilean Miners Were 'Battle-Scarred,' Author Says

Despite becoming celebrities after their improbable rescue in 2010, the men were deeply wounded, said writer Hector Tobar

Celebration of Peru's Economic Boom Comes Late

World Bank, IMF policymakers this week call country a prize pupil of financial stability, however, plunging prices for minerals have cut annual growth dramatically

Guatemala Landslide Death Toll Tops 220; Another 350 Missing

Loosened by heavy rains, hillside collapsed onto Santa Catarina Pinula on southeastern flank of Guatemala City October 1, burying scores of homes

Report: More Than 58,000 Violent Deaths Last Year in Brazil

Annual report on public security says number of violent deaths up nearly 5 percent last year from 2013, when country suffered a then high of 55,000 such deaths

UN Launches Review of Possible Corruption

Audit will look at interaction between world body and two organizations that US prosecutors have accused of bribing a former top UN official