Food Aid Reform Becomes More Urgent as Food Insecurity and Malnutrition Increase

by the Center for Economic and
Policy Research (CEPR)
The Associated Press’ Trenton
Daniel takes a look at high levels of malnutrition and food insecurity in
Haiti, reporting that: “Three years after an earthquake killed hundreds of
thousands and the U.S. promised that Haiti would ‘build back better,’ hunger is
worse than ever. Despite billions of dollars from around the world pledged
toward rebuilding efforts, the country’s food problems underscore just how
vulnerable its 10 million people remain.

1997 some 1.2 million Haitians didn’t have enough food to eat. A decade later
the number had more than doubled. Today, that figure is 6.7 million, or a
staggering 67% of the population that goes without food some days, can’t afford
a balanced diet or has limited access to food, according to surveys by the government’s
National Coordination of Food Security. As many as 1.5 million of those face
malnutrition and other hunger-related problems.”
AP article follows the release last week of a USAID-sponsored “Famine Early
Warning System Network” report that warns that “the early depletion of food
supplies from bad harvests, the growing dependence for poor households on
market, and a reduction in agricultural employment opportunities have
contributed to the increasingly widespread acute food insecurity throughout the
country. Many municipalities are currently in crisis.”
rains, seed shortages (driving up seed prices), and withering crops that were
planted early are factors contributing to climbing food prices, the report
surveys some of the government’s responses to the challenge. One of the more
hopeful efforts to tackle hunger in Haiti that Daniel describes is the
Petrocaribe-funded program “Aba Grangou”:
after taking office, President Michel Martelly launched a nationwide program
led by his wife, Sophia, called Aba Grangou, Creole for “end hunger.”
Financed with $30 million from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe fund, the program aims
to halve the number of people who are hungry in Haiti by 2016 and eradicate
hunger and malnutrition altogether by 2025. Some 2.2 million children are
supposed to take part in a school food program financed by the fund.
whose government agency oversees Aba Grangou, said 60,000 mothers have received
cash transfers for keeping their children in school. A half million food kits
were distributed after Hurricane Sandy, along with 45,000 seed kits to
replenish damaged crops, he said. Mid- to long-term solutions require creating
the villagers in the Belle Anse area say they’ve seen scant evidence of the
program, as if officials have forgotten the deaths in 2008 of at least 26
severely malnourished children in this very region. That same year, the
government collapsed after soaring food prices triggered riots.”
article notes that USAID, which has awarded $1.15 billion in contracts and
grants to for work in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, has devoted only
two-thirds as much ($20 million) to a post-Hurricane Sandy food program as the
Petrocaribe-funded Aba Grangou. Not to worry – AP cites an expert who assures
readers that were people not receiving the aid, they would riot:
has allocated nearly $20 million to international aid groups to focus on food
problems since Hurricane Sandy, but villagers in southern Haiti said they have
seen little evidence of that.
the discrepancy, one public health expert said there’s sufficient proof that at
least some of the aid is reaching the population. Were it not, Richard Garfield
said, Haiti would see mass migration and unrest.
aid has gotten to people pretty well. If aid hadn’t gotten to people that place
would be so much more of a mess,’ said Garfield, a professor emeritus at
Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and now a specialist in
emergency response at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
‘You’d see starvation and riots … The absence of terrible things is about the
best positive thing that we can say.’”
as has been discussed repeatedly in news articles, on CEPR’s blog, and
elsewhere – and as former president Clinton has admitted – U.S. food assistance
policies are in large part responsible for the destabilization of Haitian
agriculture and the related prevalence of food insecurity and malnutrition. As
we have previously noted, Chemonics, by far the largest single recipient of
USAID funds, used to be a sister company to Comet Rice, which was a central
player in this tragedy.
reforms to such food aid practices made by the Obama administration could
assist an additional four million people for the same amount of funds,
according to USAID; the Center for Global Development (CGD) estimates as many
as 10 million more. As CGD’s Beth Schwanke describes, these proposals would
“relax in-kind and cargo preference requirements on emergency aid, shift $250
million of non-emergency food aid into a new account without in-kind
restrictions, and eliminate monetization.” But these and other proposed reforms
are being strongly opposed by vested interests that profit from the current
system, at Haitians’ expense.

Haiti’s First Lady Sophia Martelly heads the “Aba Grangou” program,
which has been criticized for being ineffective.