Questions Swirl Around World Vision’s Targeted Food Program

by Haiti Grassroots Watch
A food distribution program
aimed at expectant and new mothers and their babies may have increased the
number of girls and women getting pregnant in and around the town of Savanette,
located in Haiti’s Centre département (province).
the perception of many residents and even beneficiaries of a USAID-funded World
Vision “Multi-Year Assistance Program” (MYAP), running from 2008 through
September 2013 here and in a number of communities in Haiti. As part of the
MYAP, World Vision distributes food to pregnant women and mothers of children
six to 23 months old (so-called “1,000 day programming”), as well as to
vulnerable populations such as people living with AIDS, orphans, and
malnourished children.
are some people getting pregnant every year” in order to get free food, claimed
Carmène Louis, a former beneficiary. “That’s why there are more children
around. If you want to get in the program, you can’t unless you are pregnant…
You see youngsters [getting pregnant at] 12 or 15 years old! I think it’s a
real problem for Savanette.”
she also admitted that some of her neighbors were hungry, saying “things are
getting worse, not better.”
the lack of up-to-date statistics prevented Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) from
verifying whether or not the birthrate had indeed risen in Savanette, an
investigation carried out over the course of a year discovered that many in
this village near the Dominican Republic border – including respected elders,
community radio members, an agronomist, and several beneficiaries – believe the
MYAP has caused girls and women to resort to pregnancy in order to receive the
bulgur wheat, beans, vegetable oil, and flour at monthly distributions.
USAID-funded report on food aid programs in Haiti appears to confirm the perception.
Evaluators for the 2013 USAID-BEST Analysis noted “a rise in pregnancies in one
rural area and the possibility of this phenomenon being linked to public
perceptions of 1,000 days programming,” although the report did not name which
“rural area.”
many others questioned, agronomist Ruben Louis Jeune swore to the phenomenon
and expressed concern.
are people who get pregnant on purpose,” he said, noting that often “youngsters
are making babies. The population is growing, people are having children but
they will not be able to afford to take care of them or pay for school.”
about the possible increased pregnancies, Haiti’s Secretary of State for the
Revival of Agriculture said that, while he was not familiar with the case, it
was not out of the question.
have worked in the Central Plateau for 15 years,” he told HGW. “If I talk to
you just about the perverse effects of the programs I myself have seen in front
of my eyes… there are so many!”
World Vision MYAP program also provides pregnant women and young mothers with
prenatal care as well as support for vegetable gardens, “Behavior Change
Communication” education, and other benefits via “Mothers Clubs.” In addition,
the program has many other aspects related to helping Haitian farmers improve
their animal husbandry or crop output, including technical assistance and
training for farmers associations, distribution of seeds and livestock, support
for improving irrigation, and other help.
did not look at those aspects of the program. Journalists focused only on the
food aid and its real or perceived impacts in and around Savanette.
food assistance program is an attempt by USAID to target vulnerable
populations, especially children.
Haitian government and foreign agencies say at least 21% of all children suffer
from “stunting,” meaning they are under-weight and under-height for their age.
Some provinces are worse than others, and rural children generally have a
higher stunting prevalence.
in 2008, USAID funded MYAPs to be run by World Vision, ACDI/VOCA and Catholic
Relief Services in three different regions of the country, providing money as
well as food: about 14,000 metric tons (MT) of food aid per year during the
2011-2013 period. (The organizations received and distributed higher amounts in
2010 and 2011 as part of the earthquake response.)
Vision received 4,275 MT for FY2012 and approximately 3,830 MT for FY2013,
which ended on September 30. The U.S.-based agency also received almost US$80
million for the grant, to which they added some of their own funding. The
program cost over US$90 million for 2008-2012 and was extended for one year.
(HGW could not find the cost of the additional year.)
Vision’s food distribution programs on La Gonâve, the Central Plateau, and
parts of the Artibonite province cost about US$4.5 million per year, according
to the agency’s communications officer Jean-Wickens Méroné.
to a World Vision evaluation of its own work, published in 2012, the food aid has
had positive effects. During the first three years of the MYAP, the internal
report says, the amount of “stunting” dropped for children aged six to 59
months went from 23.5% to 6%.
Food aid is “more negative than positive”
Some in and around Savanette are
undernourished. In the last two years of FEWSNET reports, the Savanette region
is pretty consistently considered “stressed,” which is #2 on a scale of #1 to
#5, #1 being “no food insecurity” and #5 being “catastrophe/famine.”
is hunger here,” agronomist Jeune noted. “The distribution of food is not in
and of itself a problem. It has a small positive impact, but when you
investigate, you see that it is more negative than positive.”
Jeune, farmers and residents of Savanette have many questions about the
program, which comes on of decades of food aid.
addition to the real or perceived pregnancy increase, HGW also discovered that
farmers and agronomists are convinced food aid has helped create a culture of
dependence, discouraging people from working all of their plots and planting
formerly important grains like sorghum. It has also encouraged consumers to buy
imported rice rather than buy or grow sorghum, corn, and other crops, as in the
beneficiaries raised questions about the program. In the fall of 2012, HGW
journalists queried 25 beneficiary families. All of them said they had land and
were farmers. Two-thirds said that – given the option – they would prefer to
receive seeds to food aid. (Some beneficiaries said they did receive a one-time
donation of vegetable seeds.)
Derius, 71, said he thinks the younger generations do seem to want to farm, and
he added that they not value some the foods he grew up eating.
are neglecting their fields!” the farmer told HGW. “Before, we used to be able
to live off our land.”
Derius admitted that environmental degradation and other factors have
contributed to decreased agricultural output he also blamed the invasion of
food aid and cheap foreign food, which people buy instead of local products.
we have this food called ‘rice husks.’ In the Dominican Republic, they give it
to animals. In Haiti, people eat it! But before, farmers grew sorghum and
ground it. They grew Congo peas, planted potatoes, planted manioc. On a morning
like this, a farmer would make his coffee and then – using a thing called
‘top-top,’ a little mill – he would crush sugar cane and boil the sugar cane
water, and eat cassava bread, and he would have good health!” he said. “When
you lived off your garden, you were independent… But when your stomach depends
on someone else, you are not independent.”
Vision does not believe its program creates dependency because most of the
program is concerned with helping farmers improve their production.
is a program that encourages resiliency and independence, after a certain
period,” World Vision’s Director of Operations, Lionel Isaac, told HGW.
it would be unfair to blame the World Vision program for all of Savanette’s
woes. Jeune, other agronomists, and farmers like Derius hope that the plethora
of recently announced government and foreign agricultural projects will help
their region, which is capable of producing sorghum, corn, many kinds of
vegetables and fruits, tubers, and livestock products like milk. The area has a
lot of potential, Jeune said, but archaic farming methods, with few or no
agricultural inputs, keep it from being self-sufficient.
of the communes produce food,” Jeune noted. “If farmers had technical
assistance, they would make more money and the quality would improve also.”
Questions About a Food Distribution
On March 18, 2013, HGW
journalists observed a food distribution that raised questions about how
beneficiaries are treated.
was handed out to people who had stood in line for many hours, sometimes to
groups who would divide it up. Journalists witnessed shoving and even fighting,
as well as older women sitting on the ground, picking individual lentil beans.
a lot of distributions, you see pushing,” Jeune told HGW. “Old people are
sometimes hurt. Even if food is being handed out, basic principals should be
in 2012, about one-third of 25 beneficiaries said they had been mistreated
during food distributions.
Vision workers did not want HGW to videotape the March 18 distribution where –
at the end of the distribution – some food had not been handed out.
can’t film here!” one of the men yelled, shoving the journalists. Along with
others, he tried to force journalists to turn off their camera and leave.
of the community radio station and other bystanders protected the journalists,
who were eventually allowed to continue their work. World Vision officials in
the capital later apologized for the attack, saying they had disciplined the

Haiti Grassroots Watch is a collaboration of two Haitian organizations,
Groupe Medialternatif/Alterpresse and the Society for the Animation of Social
Communication (SAKS), along with students from the Faculty of Human Sciences at
the State University of Haiti and members of two networks – the network of
women community radio broadcasters (REFRAKA) and the Association of Haitian
Community Media (AMEKA), which is comprised of community radio stations located
across the country. This series produced by HGW is distributed in collaboration
with Haiti