Responding to the Haitian earthquake in a sustainable manner
In efforts to help the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti we seem to be repeating some of the same old mistakes. According to food first, “Farmers in other parts of the country are growing food that can be purchased and given to those in and around Port-au-Prince”.
Inspired, I sent off this email to the directors of Feed My Starving Children:
I have read with interest your earnest efforts at helping the people of Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.
As a Christian, your mission to feed the starving resonates deeply with me.
I am concerned, however, that your particular approach to helping might do more harm those in need. I am absolutely certain that is not your aim which is why I decided to write to you directly.
I wanted to bring your attention to the fact that your shipping quantities of food from the U.S. to crisis locations actively undermines the food producers in those countries and in so doing leaves local populations in situations of dire food insecurity. With food insecurity in place, its only a matter of time before more emergency food reserves are needed.
For example; you are currently mobilizing volunteers to pack packets of food to be shipped to Haiti. This food has been grown by U.S. farmers who received government subsidies to grow the food at below market rates. The food is then purchased, using funds donated by your supporters) or donated by large multinational conglomerates such as Monsanto and Cargill. You ostensibly use American shipping companies and airlines to get the food to the ground in Haiti where it will be distributed to those in need.
The problem with this supply chain is that local farmers in Haiti have been growing locally appropriate foods for this whole growing season. They, and their food stocks have not been affected by the earthquake. There are thousands of tonnes of culturally appropriate food currently available from these local sources.
Your free food aid will end up filling the food market place and local food producers and distributors will be flooded out of the food market. It doesn’t matter who you are, nobody can compete with free! Next season, Haitian farmers will have made no profit from the food they grew last season (many being subsistence farmers who are only able to sustain themselves and their families on a season by season basis). Not having any profits from the previous season they will be unable to pay for fertilizer and other farm inputs and will surely sink further into poverty. Its almost predictable that half a year from now, Haiti will endure a biting hunger epidemic because local farmers will not have planted enough food to feed the population.
inevitably your organization will ship even more free food aid and the cycle will continue.
Repeat this scenario in every country you are currently distributing free food and we’ve got a major problem. We’ve had a major problem for a while.
Why don’t you just raise money from your donors and purchase food for your food aid programs locally? That way you and your organization’s supporters are able to nurture the nascent food industries in poor countries. From farmers, distributors to local shopkeepers and market women, a sustainable food supply chain will have benefits that truly feed God’s starving children.
Surely you can explain this to your donors and still retain their support.
I know there is a large possibility that this email will go largely ignored but I pray that it will not. The future of millions of poor starving people is at stake.