Haiti’s Desperate Food Crop Outlook

In a normal year, Haiti must start now preparing for the spring planting season, which ends in May.  The spring crop usually produces 60 percent of the country’s food.  Unfortunately, many families have had to eat or share the seeds they were saving for the next crop. Any improved seed varieties brought in now as aid are all too likely to be hijacked for immediate consumption by the portside mobs and thugs. Almost no chemical fertilizer is available, and Haiti has neither trucks nor usable roads to get it to the farms.

Most Haitians are underfed in their good years, with about 60 percent of kids under five suffering anemia and other diseases of malnutrition. Many of the kids will go blind or die due to severe Vitamin A deficiency, because they get few livestock calories. In hurricane years, the people suffer even more. In 2008, for example, the country suffered three hurricanes and a tropical storm. And now the massive earthquake. Food supplies are at urgent risk.

Over the years, poor Haitians who couldn’t afford to burn kerosene turned their local trees into charcoal.. Now most of the forest is gone, and soil erosion ravages the steep slopes. Mudslides overrun roads and irrigation systems.

The Haitians grow root crops like potatoes and sweet potatoes because they produce more food calories per acre. But the root crops, too, aggravate the already-serious soil erosion. Beans and corn are other major staples. The once-subsidized rice industry collapsed. Could it now be revived?

Agriculture provides one-fourth of the country’s economic output most years, and perhaps 70 percent of the jobs. Of course, there would be lots of jobs today in the island’s rebuilding—if anyone had the money to hire workers.

Most of Haiti’s grain, more than a million tons per year, has been imported. Now there is no money to buy more grain. The World Food Program is asking for $279 million in food aid funding, but has been promised only $60 million so far.

Ten thousand fishermen ply the waters around Haiti, catching mostly crab, scampi, and shrimp—but their decrepit boats don’t dare venture far out, and fishermen from other countries are competing with big diesel boats, fancy nets, and electronic fish finders.

Where does Haiti build for the future? Half of its economic output has disappeared in the past 20 years as a defrocked Catholic priest named Aristede preached revolution from the President’s chair and whatever capital Haiti had fled the country. Eventually, the U.S. Marines spent years trying to maintain order in the streets, but no real political settlement has yet been reached. Radicals still preach about a “New World Order,” but there’s no longer a Soviet Union to provide guns—or food.

The in-bond manufacturing sector is now largely gone, because foreign capital and foreign managers don’t dare risk Haiti’s combination of political unrest and corruption. In fact, there are few potential avenues for growing jobs and incomes in Haiti, at least as long as the thugs prevent civil governance. The risks are too high for outside capital and managers to take on.

The World Bank wrote a plaintive report saying that remittances from Haitians in other countries are now the only prop for the economy (about $1.87 billion in 2009, equal to 35 percent of Haiti’s own economic output). And that report was written in 2005, before the latest set of storms and the earthquake.

The farmers could grow truck crops for export, but lack the roads to reach the ports; and even then they’d still many sea-miles from markets. Kenya grows cut flowers for air-freight to Europe on a space-available basis. But few airliners fly from Haiti to the affluent countries. Tourism? The few “good” hotels were flattened by the quake, many with their visitors inside.


About the Author: Dennis Avery

Dennis Avery

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of "Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years." Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 24421; email to [email protected]