Haiti & Food Sovereignty

This year’s earthquake drew people’s attention to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  The damage caused by the quake was made worse by the desperate living conditions of the majority of poor Haitians, poor building standards and the concentration of people in shanty towns in the capital Port-au-Prince.  But what lay behind this lack of development and dire poverty?  What made so many Haitians move from the countryside to the city?  The Haitian case is a prime example of many of the issues facing developing countries and the threats to their food sovereignty.

Those issues include farmers being undercut by subsidised imports or dumping from Western countries.  Developing country governments are forced to cut ‘trade barriers’ -like export taxes that they need for local development- as conditions for getting loans or for debt-forgiveness, while those same Western countries preaching for ‘free trade’ continue to subsidise their own farmers.  Governments are also enticed or forced into concentrating on cash crops (including biofuels) for export instead of investing in local agriculture because they have to gain foreign currency to pay off debts to international lenders.  This industrial scale agriculture requires large quantities of inputs (pesticides, fertilisers, machinery) and only those who can access credit survive.   As well as leading to a concentration of land ownership and environmental degradation, this undermines sustainable rural development and small farmers are forced off the land and in to already overcrowded cities with little potential for employment.

In the case of Haiti this occurred in a context where foreign meddling by multinational corporations and Western governments had also been preventing autonomous local development and undermining Haitian sovereignty in many other ways (supporting coups, setting up low tax and unregulated export processing zones for foreign companies ).  And when the earthquake struck the resulting underdevelopment and poverty led to extreme human suffering.

This video exposes the role of the US in the destruction of Haitian rice production and the effects this has had on its ability to feed its people.

Too late Mr Clinton, too damn late.

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