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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.