Recently several people have written to me about agricultural practices, particularly as regards rice, in Haiti.
One person made these particular points:
1) It would be nice for Haitians to have an export crop.
2) They have lots of water (I assume good for growing rice)
3) I hope it’s not GMO rice, and they will not have to dump many chemicals on it.
4) There are many ways of growing rice that integrate other things (ducks, fish, other produce), and build soil. The Chinese traditional way does exactly that.
5) Is rice native to Haiti, and do Haitians eat rice? If not, then there is likely a much better crop for them to grow, that will do better. If desertification is a problem, there are many ways to combat that that are relatively short-term labour intensive, and long-term simple easy peasy. It produces food for everyone, and more to export… Can rice be part of a system? possibly. If done properly.
6) Food security is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed so that Haiti isn’t at the mercy of international prices. That is a first priority in my books.
Another person answered these comments this way:
Haitians eat rice non-stop. I’m not sure if this has gone on since Haitians arrived from Africa in the 1700s. But most of it is USA bags of rice, which even Bill Clinton now openly regrets causing. Sadly Haitians are still quite far from fulfilling their own history of being the sugar/mango/etc-producing paradise, that the French were so desperate to keep until it liberated itself bloodily in 1804. Tragically as we know, 209 years later Haitian aren’t really liberated, “importing” much of their own food and everything else. So the concept of food/resource independence (or even interdependence) will likely remain in Haiti for generations. Meanwhile, it is necessary to do a far better job of protecting cleaner water through the dry seasons, presumably with reservoirs and canals California-style to survive, and reducing quite serious air/exhaust pollution too. Not enough people understand Haiti’s environmental tradeoffs, given humanitarian urgencies generally far deeper than any other country in the Americas.
The Rice Value Chain in Haiti
Once a special food consumed on Sunday, rice has become the main staple of the Haitian diet, especially among low income people. Imported rice accounts for the vast bulk (83 percent) of consumption. Current imports total some 380,000 tons annually, at a cost of $200 million a year. The irrigated Artibonite Valley region is, by far, the main rice production area in Haiti, accounting for up to 80 percent of national production.
In light of these figures, it is clear that any discussion of food security in Haiti must address the supply side of rice. A substantial increase in local production is needed to reduce dependence on external supplies, particularly given high and volatile international prices, and to improve the incomes of local producers, especially smallholder farmers.
The Haitian rice economy is directly linked to international markets. Most projections suggest that global prices will remain high and volatile for the foreseeable future. In addition, international rice markets remain distorted by high levels of subsidies in some producer countries, notably the United States. The latter country is the fifth largest exporter globally, but accounts for the lion’s share of Haiti’s imports. Heavy dependence on imports leaves Haiti vulnerable to price spikes, which are leading to discontent similar to that experienced in 2008, when food price riots led to the collapse of the government of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis.
Macroeconomic factors have created a significant price advantage for imported rice in the Haitian market. In particular, Haiti reduced its tariff on foreign rice from 50 percent to 3 percent in 1995, and the local currency, the Haitian gourde, has appreciated vis à vis the US dollar. In addition, a small number of politically influential importers dominate
It would, however, be a mistake to assume that mere changes in these macroeconomic factors alone could stimulate a rapid response in local production that would replace imports. An analysis of Haiti’s rice value chain indicates a number of serious deficiencies:
•Limited irrigation infrastructure and poor maintenance of the
•Additional problems with regard to soil and water conservation;
•Limited government support for production, particularly with regard to
research and extension, with inadequate financial and human resources
provided to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Artibonite Valley Development
•Difficult access to credit for most producers;
•Insufficient use of improved seeds and fertilizers (whether mineral
or organic), and low adoption of technologies for planting preparation and crop management, as well as water and soil management; and
•Production on a very small scale, with an average holding of less than one
hectare (a hectare is equal to 2.47 acres), on land with precarious property rights, and a tendency to subdivision and fragmentation (owing to the absence of employment alternatives for the younger generations), making it difficult for farmers to adopt improved management technologies or to mechanize some productive processes.
As a result of these factors, yields have stagnated at the level of two tons per
hectare (about half of the international average) for more than 20 years.
The inefficiencies at the level of primary production are reproduced in the subsequent links of the value chain. In particular, there is great lack of infrastructure for drying and milling, which causes enormous post harvest losses that are absorbed entirely by the producers themselves.
At the same time, Haiti lacks the tools and frameworks to manage trade appropriately. These would include price stabilization mechanisms and a regulatory framework to differentiate imported rice according to specific characteristics of quality and price.
As a result of these deficiencies and limitations, there is no magic policy bullet that in isolation would drastically improve rice production in Haiti. The depth and extent of the problems require the formulation of policies, adoption of policy tools, and resource allocation for the medium and long term. Better and more efficient coordination mechanisms between the production and processing levels are essential. Current international prices and the medium term projections provide better conditions than in previous years for the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive policy for Haiti’s rice sector.
The dogged persistence of a significant number of small scale rice producers, who have resisted the adverse conditions resulting from the sharp tariff liberalization and unfavorable conditions of the international markets in earlier years, exhibits a resilience and adaptive capacity that should form the basis for the modernization process. The existence of long-standing producer organizations may also be the basis for brokering support services, improved technology, and installation of processing and management capabilities.
Based on this analysis, a proposed national policy for Haiti’s rice sector focuses on four key areas:
•A program to strengthen infrastructure to improve irrigation and drainage
•Policies to support primary production, with special priority given to dissemination and adoption of technological packages that have a high potential impact on production and productivity, with time-bound subsidies provided to small-scale farmers to facilitate their adoption of the package;
•Policies to improve coordination along the value chain; and
•Policies to address international price instability and short-term price
Econometric analysis examines the impacts of different policy options and instruments on both producers and consumers, particularly with regard to:
•Changes in yields and production at the farm level
•Changes in tariff levels and increments in import costs
•Changes in international prices
The analysis finds that Improvements in productivity, based on increased yields per hectare, are the best option by far, creating a greater and faster impact on producers’ incomes. A set of policy tools is needed to create a rapid and significant increase in productivity.
These tools would need to be bolstered by adoption of a price stabilization system, inspired by or similar to the mechanism applied in numerous countries for rice and other agricultural commodities, in order to manage likely short-term price fluctuations. Price stabilization would involve ensuring that imported rice sells at a minimum entry price, with a variable tariff that rises when the price of imports falls below the minimum level. In light of social and political concerns, this kind of policy appears more feasible than a major increase in the tariff level. Moreover, an increased tariff does not have a high impact on either producer or consumer prices.
Adequate technical and financial assistance from donors will be essential to ensure the success of this policy proposal.
This was the executive summary from the longer document which you can read here: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/files/haiti-rice-policy-backgrounder.pdf