November 13, 2010
By Beverly Bell
Rony Charles, a rice grower and member of the Agricultural Producer Cooperative of Verrettes, said,
“Instead of foreigners sending us food, they should give us the chance to do our own agriculture so it can survive.”
Giving domestic agriculture the chance to survive would address four critical needs:
* Creating employment for a Haiti’s rural majority, estimated at 60 percent to 80 percent of the population;
* Allowing rural people to stay on their land. This is both their right and an effective way to keep Port-au-Prince from becoming even more perilously overcrowded;
* Addressing an ongoing food crisis. Today, even with imports, more than 2.4 million people out of a population of 9 million are estimated to be food-insecure. Acute malnutrition among children under the age 5 is 9 percent, and chronic undernutrition for that age group is 24 percent.
Peasant groups are convinced that, with the necessary investment, Haiti could produce at least 80 percent of its food consumption needs;
To attain these goals, Haitian groups of small farmers (or peasants, as they call themselves) are challenging a decades-long pattern of conflict and competition, a trend which the Duvalier dictators actively fostered in order to sustain their fierce control. Groups are uniting into coalitions and beginning to work together, thereby building political might to shore up domestic agriculture. They are advancing their agenda collectively through negotiations with the Ministry of Agriculture, national pressure, international policy advocacy and the creation of a common cause with other farmer movements and allies elsewhere.
These farmers, like their counterparts the world over, are focused principally on building food sovereignty. They are on the frontlines of a clash between two development models: food sovereignty and neoliberalism.
Food sovereignty is the right of a people to define their own food and agricultural systems, premised on growing domestically for domestic consumption. It is based on other social and economic rights, too: the right to food, the right of rural peoples to produce and the right to land.
Food sovereignty promotes small-scale agriculture, government management of food imports, protection of native seeds and large-scale redistribution of land with land tenure protections for small farmers. It calls for the democratic participation of the population in shaping trade policies and for development programs which protect domestic production, especially by small growers.
The opposing model, neoliberalism, is the one governing farming in Haiti and much of the world. An ideology as well as a set of free-market policies and programs, neoliberalism opposes a significant role of government or community in planning, investing in or intervening into markets in ways which could protect and promote national development. Neoliberalism gives primacy to corporate control over domestic production and the environment. Key players here include the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), governments of industrialized countries, large landholders and corporations.
The model is based on global trade rules, which allow rich countries to make profits off of Haiti and other low-income countries in two ways. The first of these is to use the country as a source of cheap, raw goods for the so-called First World; materials are extracted or produced by intensive exploitation of labor, land and other resources. Haiti used to fill this role, historically exporting hardwoods and, more recently, foodstuffs – until the 1980s, when the agricultural sector no longer had the capacity to do so.