“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but… it was a mistake. I have to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.” – Former Pres. Bill Clinton
The above quote speaks to a profoundly important shift in Haiti since the 1980s: the replacement of most locally grown rice with US imports. Although Haiti produced enough rice to feed itself just 35 years ago, that era has long since passed. Today, the USA Rice Federation brags that Haiti is one of the 5 largest export markets (PDF) for American rice.
In this quote, Bill Clinton admitted something that Haitians have long known. By destroying its rice production system, the US “imposed” upon Haiti decades of devastating hunger. One of the Haitians fighting to reverse this trend is a visionary agricultural activist named Lavarice Gaudin. The Haiti Justice Alliance is thrilled to announce that Lavarice will be joining us in Minnesota from Nov. 6-10.
Repeating the Mistakes of the Past
Lavarice’s desire to rejuvenate Haitian agriculture is born of awareness that suppressing it is what created the current hunger crisis. Unfortunately, many who work to alleviate Haiti’s burden of hunger do so without similarly educating themselves.
If there’s any doubt whether these misguided efforts can be dangerous, Clinton’s quote should clearly illustrate that tragedy can result from good intentions. Unfortunately, many NGOs and governments agencies still use the “outdated approaches” bemoaned by experts – the same ones that led to the destruction of Haiti’s agriculture.
Yet these harmful approaches are not accidental: they’re institutionalized in US law. The 1986 Bumpers Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act prohibits US foreign aid from supporting crop production that might “compete with US exports.” One consequence of this Amendment is that it creates perverse incentives for Haitian farmers: any farmer who grows Haiti’s main staple – rice – risks being disqualified from receiving US assistance over fear of competition.
More immediately, this Amendment is one of the reasons the US government continues to import thousands of megatons of food aid to Haiti. While the persistence of these practices is disheartening to those advocating just approaches, it should also be unsurprising. After all, according to the Congressional Research Service, “national security” and “commercial interests” both rank above “humanitarian concerns” (PDF) as objectives for foreign aid.
Supporting Just Solutions: Lavarice’s Vision for Agriculture
As the US government continues to pour money into harmful food donations ($173 million in 2010), it’s more important than ever to promote just alternatives. In this spirit, we hope you’ll join us in learning from and supporting Lavarice’s work in Haiti.
Lavarice, who has “a passion for agricultural self-sufficiency in Haiti,” manages the What If? Foundation’s work on the ground in Haiti. What If? sponsors several community initiatives in a poor parish of Port-au-Prince, including scholarship, summer camp, and after-school programs. Its flagship effort, however, is a food distribution program that has historically provided to community members upwards of 3,000 much-needed meals each weekday.
Breaking with the typical model for food aid, Lavarice has helped propel the Foundation’s food program to use its buying power to support local farmers. In September of 2010, he rented land for a teaching farm, hiring local farmers to plant and tend the crops.
The advantage of Lavarice’s work extends well beyond generating produce, which is donated to the organization’s meal program. By successfully supporting food distribution with locally grown crops, Lavarice demonstrates a viable alternative to the harmful imported food approach. In addition to modeling agricultural self-sufficiency, Lavarice invites groups of children in the summer and after-school camp to learn about growing food and composting.
The Haiti Justice Alliance delegation visited Lavarice’s farm in May, where we saw that his farm was thriving (see below). We hope that his work and vision can inspire further action, as well as a broader discussion about the right way to support food and agriculture efforts in Haiti.
Please Join Us To Share Lavarice’s Vision
Lavarice has several presentations lined up, all of which are open to everyone. We hope you’ll join us to hear more about his exciting work, his personal story, and his inspiring vision for Haiti’s agriculture.
- St. Olaf College, Nov. 7, 4:30 PM, Viking Theater
Title: Sustainable Agriculture as a Human Right: Perspectives from Haiti and Northfield. For this panel presentation, Lavarice will be joined by local agricultural activist Reginaldo Haslett-Maroquin of the Rural Enterprise Center.
- Carleton College, Nov. 8, 7:30 PM, Weitz Center Larson Meeting Room (236)
Title: Haiti’s Struggle for Justice and Food Sovereignty.
- University of Minnesota, Nov. 9, 5:00 PM, Nolte Room 140
Tentative Title: Hunger and Injustice in Haiti: How To Move Forward.
You can also meet with Lavarice during several small group discussions. For more information about public presentations or smaller gatherings, please contact Nathan: firstname.lastname@example.org.