Oxfam calls for shift in international trade policies to help Haiti rebuild itself

by Oxfam | Oxfam GB - UK
Monday, 4 October 2010 23:01 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In a new report released today, international agency Oxfam called for a radical shift to prioritize agricultural investment in plans to rebuild Haiti after the devastating earthquake earlier this year. The agency also urged international donors to generously fund the Haitian governmentâ??s $772 million agriculture plan and abandon trade policies such as dumping highly subsidized rice and placing barriers on Haitian exports. Philippe Mathieu, Oxfam Country Director in Haiti, said: “Harrowing images of collapsed homes, hospitals and buildings showed how badly the capital city and towns were hit by the earthquake. But the pictures didnâ??t show the devastating effect on the countryside where the majority of Haitians must make a living. The earthquake disrupted food production, affecting the entire nation where six out of 10 people were hungry even before theearthquake. “For decades, the Haitian government and international donors have neglected agriculture, despite its importance to Haitian lives. If Haiti is going to be â??built back betterâ?? then the international community needs to generously support the Haitian governmentâ??s agricultural investment plan.” The agencyâ??s report, Planting Now: Agricultural Challenges and Opportunities for Haiti’s Reconstruction, said strong, sustainable agricultural and rural development is critical to the success of post-earthquake Haiti. As the majority of Haitians still live in the countryside and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, reconstruction efforts should prioritize agriculture to reduce poverty and improve access to food in both rural and urban Haiti. Nearly 90% of rural people were living on less than $2 per day before the earthquake. The tremor displaced more than 2 million Haitians, including nearly 600,000 who initially migrated to the countryside, putting even more pressure on food and fuel resources. The massive international food aid surge following the earthquake reduced food prices and eased access to food, which helped those who were receiving direct food distributions, but hurt rural Haitians whose incomes depend on food sales. The Oxfam report calls on the international community to adopt policies that will support Haitian economic development. For example, allowing Haitian exports, particularly apparel products, to have full duty and quota-free access to the US market would help the country work its way out of poverty. Oxfam also called for Haiti to be exempt from the so-called Bumpers Amendment, which prohibits direct assistance to the development of crops such as rice that may compete globally with US exports. “Currently, US rice subsidies and in-kind food aid undercut Haitian farmers at the same time as the US government is investing in Haitian agricultural development. The international community must abandon these conflicting trade and aid polices in order to support the growth of Haitiâ??s fragile rural economy,” said Mathieu. The government of Haiti developed an ambitious $772 million agricultural reconstruction plan â?? the National Agricultural Investment Plan â?? focusing on improving infrastructure, boosting production and enhancing services to rural areas. So far the international community has not yet agreed to provide all of the resources requested for this plan. The Oxfam report highlights areas of the plan that can be strengthened to build a sustainable agriculture sector in Haiti. This includes supporting the crucial role of women in producing and marketing and strengthening the voice of rural farmers by building up local community organizations. Improving schools, healthcare, jobs and the capacity of local governments to deliver services and promote community development are also critical to enhancing the quality of rural life. “With adequate support and comprehensive implementation, the National Agricultural Investment Plan could make these regions more attractive and sustainable places to work and live for Haitians. This rural and agricultural development will go a long way toward improving access to food and reducing poverty all over Haiti,” said Mathieu. ENDS Planting Now: Agricultural Challenges and Opportunities for Haitiâ??s Reconstruction More from the Oxfam Press Office at http://www.oxfam.org.uk/news