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Est. April 5, 2002
April 28, 2016 - Issue 651

Poor Haitian Farmers
U.S. Helps by Dumping
Tons of Peanuts as a Gift


"It is an old story, this aid and 'gifts' from
the rich neighbor. There is always some reason
for it and the reason usually has something to
do with helping a corporation or big business
in the U.S. maintain profits."

Haiti’s poor farmers. They eke out a living growing peanuts as one of the crops that will grow well and that the local farmers can earn money with and now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced a “gift” of some 500 metric tons of peanuts that is bound to undercut the markets for locally grown peanuts.

Who loses? The Haitian farmers, of course. While the effort and the deal is touted as “humanitarian,” to supply Haitian school children with a nutritious food that provides protein, vitamin E, folate, and niacin, little thought, it appears, was given to the effects on Haitian farmers, many of whom work with animal power and their own power to get the harvest that allows them to hang on.

The USDA plan is to begin shipping the packaged peanuts later this year, a joint project among the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS), and the Food and Nutrition Services, both for people in need in the U.S. and in foreign countries. The school feeding project in Haiti, according to the USDA, is part of the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, “which sends domestic agricultural commodities to school feeding programs at primary schools around the world that are struggling against poverty, malnutrition, and disease. The surplus peanuts will help feed nearly 140,000 malnourished kids for a full school year. Having food available for the kids increases their attendance at school and improves their ability to learn.”

A look at the numbers shows the size of the program, especially in a country like Haiti, which has a population of about 10 million, so helping to feed 140,000 kids for a year is a plan with good intentions. Five hundred metric tons is about 1,102,300 pounds and, if that amount of the gift were to be put into eight-ounce bags, it would come to about 551,150 packages, a lot of peanuts for children, if the peanuts ever get to the schools at all. Critics are already predicting that the U.S. peanuts will show up in the open markets, having made their way from the harbor to the streets, not the schools. And there, they will undersell the peanuts grown by Haitian farmers.

That’s always the underside of such gifts, such as peanuts produced in subsidized conditions in the U.S. Not all peanut farmers are subsidized, just as most small farms are not subsidized in the U.S., but the big ones are. There are such things as food brokers, who put together quantities of food for either domestic consumption or for shipment to foreign countries. They will qualify for some subsidies, as well. A Haitian farmer will be lucky to get a good square-yard spot in a local market to sell his peanuts to customers directly. That would be as much subsidy as she or he would get, but don’t count on it.

It is an old story, this aid and “gifts” from the rich neighbor. There is always some reason for it and the reason usually has something to do with helping a corporation or big business in the U.S. maintain profits.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was supposed to open all kinds of markets for businesses in all three of the trading partners, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. However, in the first year, Canada reported losing 500,000 jobs to the lower-wage country to its south (the U.S.) and, if the U.S. had lost a proportionate number of jobs, it would have lost 5 million jobs. That was one of the dire results of NAFTA for Canada.

NAFTA did, however, make it possible for U.S. agribusinesses to dump goods on Mexico, such as the chicken produced by some of the biggest corporations in the world. When the sell-by date was imminent, chicken was dumped on the Mexican market and sold at ridiculously low prices, driving many small farmers out of poultry raising and, eventually, off their land. That was just in one aspect of the so-called free trade pact.

And then, people in the U.S. wondered why so many Mexicans were flowing into the U.S. In the immortal words of a previous Clinton presidential campaign (paraphrasing), “It’s the shrinking of the Mexican economy, stupid!” It should have been clear to most North Americans that Mexicans whose livelihoods have been swept away by great economic power from another country would go to that country to find some way to feed their families…anything to make even a meager living.

In Haiti, the peanut present was not the first time that the U.S. had intervened. It had happened at least twice before, and that was involving just food crops or livestock. In the Bill Clinton Administration, the Haitian government was convinced (more like coerced) to lower the tariffs for such things as rice, purportedly to help them ease their country into the company of “industrialized nations.” They lowered the tariff from 50 percent to 3 percent, and that opened their country’s market to foreign rice, much of it coming from Arkansas, the state that Clinton had recently served as governor.

The result was devastation for Haitian rice farmers, just as the current “gift” of peanuts will likely be for peanut farmers. The one other incidence of assistance that ended not so well for Haitians was their Creole pigs that carried disease. They were helped by U.S. agribusiness by ridding the country of their indigenous pigs and substituting them with U.S. pigs of obviously inferior survivability skills. Hogs in the U.S., remember, are bred to live in confinement and they didn’t do well in Haiti.

That’s the way it goes for the Western Hemisphere’s second oldest democracy, it seems. Only in retrospect did someone responsible for a disaster in Haiti apologize for it. Here’s how Democracy Now! reported former president Bill Clinton’s apology to Haiti, a few years ago: “Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.”

What Clinton did not say was that what he had done was just a continuation of what has been done to Haiti and much of the developing world for many generations by U.S. global corporations and the various governments, regardless of party. And, the peanut gift is another in a series.

Haiti has been a nation beset by repeated disaster, most of it not from natural causes. It has been used and abused for generations by its more powerful neighbors, North American and European. It was even occupied for nearly two decades when, in 1915, U.S. Marines landed and held the country under military rule, on the pretense that they were there to protect the lives of U.S. citizens. To the shame of the rich countries, it has yet to recover from the devastating earthquake in 2010, which left 220,000 people dead, 300,000 injured and much of the country left in ruins, with rubble in the streets, especially in the capital, Port au Prince.

For reasons of political instability and other causes, Haiti apparently faces many more years before it can return to any semblance of normality. And, although donations and pledges after the quake amounted to some $13.5 billion, it is difficult to point to steady rebuilding and change for the better. Regardless of the amount of money pledged or given, it would be difficult for the people of Haiti to pull together a national plan for recovery and reconstruction. Not the least of the problems of any country in such straits is that there are an estimated (depending on those doing the counting) 3,000 to 10,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Haiti at work, most doing whatever they see as the need of the people.

A major perpetrator of economic oppression of a small, weak country can apologize for his country’s deeds on the one hand, but the policies just continue and, by the looks of the politics of the U.S., Haiti and other countries can look forward to many more years of exploitation, all, of course, under the guise of assistance. In the scheme of things, 500 metric tons of peanuts that will help feed 140,000 children for a year many not seem like much, since the U.S. produces about 4 million tons of peanuts a year, but it is a reminder that Haiti will keep getting this kind of help, whether they want it or not.

If the U.S. really wanted to help Haiti feed itself, it would provide aid to the country’s farmers, to develop their own indigenous cultures of food production. It’s called food sovereignty and the U.S. would do well to pay attention to conditions in the crop fields of the country and the striving of Haitian farmers to be self-sufficient. Then, the country that wants to assist should act accordingly.

There’s a t-shirt making the rounds in the U.S. that bears an admonition that goes something like this: “If things continue to worsen, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to stop helping.” Maybe, we should gather up a few hundred thousand of these shirts and ship them off to Haiti. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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