On Haiti and Rice

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Monday, 08 February 2010 13:17
In 2008 Oxfam reported that:
Less than 20 years ago, the country was nearly self-sufficient when it came to rice production. But in 1995, when the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund pressured Haiti to cut import tariffs on rice from 50 percent to 3 percent, cheap subsidized rice from the US began to flood into the country. Urban consumers benefited for a while from the low-cost imports, but they caused national rice production to plummet. Today, Haiti is now importing 80 percent of the rice it consumes.

The international food crisis in 2008/2009 - when the price of rice in Haiti rose by 141% in just a few months - brought this issue to light, and in the aftermath of the earthquake the question of Haiti's food security is once again becoming an issue. Partners in Health reports that "The cost of a bag of rice has increased dramatically in the weeks since the January 12th earthquake." A 25 kg bag of rice is going for $42 USD where it was just $30 USD before the quake.

The development economist, Jeffrey Sachs, has noted Haiti's problem of over reliance on imported food and is pushing for a reconstruction plan that will take advantage of the upcoming growing season to set Haitian agriculture on the right path:
[W]e have a growing season starting in a couple of months, and it absolutely behooves us to help Haiti get a bumper crop on its own production. This is a country substantially of peasant farmers who, if they have the inputs, are going to produce a good crop for the whole country.

The Haitian government, supported by the Federal Agricultur Organization (FAO), is already taking steps in that direction. The post-earthquake program "gives specific guidelines for international aid in the sector for the next eighteen months."

According to FAO:
The Haitian government estimates in its blueprint around $32 million is needed now to buy urgent seeds, tools and fertilisers for farmers so that they can begin planting in March for the spring planting season which usually accounts for 60 percent of Haiti’s agricultural production.