The aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti is a powerful example of how the breakdown of a nation’s local food system and its reliance on food imports has made international trade and subsidies necessary year-round and has crippled the nation’s own disaster response.  It is also clear from the calamitous quake that the situation has been exacerbated because the nation is poor, has an inadequate infrastructure, and produces few cash crops of its own.  

haiti-relief-water.jpgPrior to the Jan.12 earthquake, Haiti was the most malnourished and poverty-stricken country in the western hemisphere, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.  The destruction caused by the quake has caused further disparity, as basic needs such as a nutritious, safe meals and clean water are even more of a challenge to come by than before.

The infrastructure that once brought food and distributed it throughout the country is paralyzed.  
As few as thirty years ago, Haiti was a self-reliant nation from an agriculture perspective.  Now Haiti is dependent on important food, with half of the food supply being imported prior to the disaster.  There is a need for increased food production, agriculture rehabilitation, and reconstruction within the country that will take years, if not decades, to achieve.

In the long term there is a need for food sovereignty in Haiti, which would include laws to protect the arable land for agriculture from erosion and support local farmers.  The destruction and lack of crops will impact the entire Haitian population and increase malnourishment.

Without investment in infrastructure–roads, the airport, and shipping ports were all damaged in the earthquake–the movement of food throughout the country is limited.  More than one million Haitians may run away from the Port-au-Prince section for the countryside in search of food and clean water, which could further strain struggling farms.  With such a high demand of travel, however, bus fares and gas prices have increased, further straining the locals in suffering.

At least three million people are in need of aid.  According to the American Red Cross, thousands of meals have been distributed by the US military, and Red Cross volunteers plan to deliver clean drinking water to 200,000 people (17 settlements) each day by truck.  As of Jan. 21, over one million liters (approximately 265,000 gallons) of water had been distributed through the Red Cross; not nearly enough for 3 million people to survive on.  More water is needed.

During times like this it is significant just how easily broken but reliant we are.  When local food systems fail, the global community can step in and offer support.  For the poor, who knows how many will fall ill or die because they cannot access safe food or clean water.  The country has an immediate need, but it also needs to return to a state of self-sufficiency with respect to its food supply.

Photo:  A Haitian Red Cross volunteer helps distribute water.  Credit: American Red Cross/Talia Frenkel.  To find out more about the Red Cross response to the earthquake in Haiti, visit the Red Cross Disaster Online Newsroom

  • Daniel

    We have a plan to help meet the food security needs of Haiti by applying modern tools, equipment, and procedures to increase the productive yield of the land. We have been seeking funding for the purchase of agricultural production equipment, farm equipment, food processing and handling equipment, and processing plants. But it has been like pulling hen’s teeth to get any financing. Without access to capital for small and medium sized businesses in Haiti, I see little hope for sustainable development.

  • Wanted to make sure you saw this recent post about Haiti and agriculture on the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet blog. All the best, Danielle Nierenberg,
    Looking to Agriculture to Help Rebuild in Haiti
    A recent article in the New York Times highlights the critical role that agriculture will play in rebuilding Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake of January 2010.
    Food security is not a new problem in Haiti, and development organizations such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme, as well as nongovernmental organizations like Heifer International and Oxfam, have been forced to halt food programs in the country as these groups themselves attempt to recover from the disaster.
    Before the quake, FAO alone was implementing 23 food and agriculture projects in Haiti, hoping to improve access to food in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Prior to the disaster, an estimated 46 percent of Haiti’s population was undernourished, and chronic malnutrition affected 24 percent of children under five.
    Right now the most urgent need is to get food and water to millions of people in the capital city of Port au Prince and elsewhere in Haiti. But as the country looks to the future, the need for sustainable sources of food, such as those we are learning about in sub-Saharan Africa, is more important than ever.