Even before the devastating January 2010 earthquake, Haiti was one of the poorest and most food-insecure countries on earth. A majority of Haitians live in rural areas and depend on agricultural livelihoods, but neither the government nor the international community has paid sufficient attention to agriculture, leaving the countryside increasingly marginalized. Too often, decision-making forums have excluded the voices of poor rural Haitians. Trade liberalization has exposed Haitian farmers to competition from subsidized US rice exports and made consumers vulnerable to volatile global food prices.
The immediate humanitarian response to the earthquake had a degree of bias towards external food aid, although some donors emphasized local procurement from Haitian farmers. Massive distribution of seeds, tools, and fertilisers in the earthquake zone and to those hosting displaced people bolstered prospects for 2010 harvests, although donors did not provide enough resources to assist all targeted households.
Given the importance of agriculture in the lives of most Haitians, it must have a central place in post-earthquake reconstruction. Policies and programmes need to emphasize improving small-scale farmers' access to resources and services, so as to boost their incomes and productivity, particularly with regard to staple food crops. Urgent attention is also needed to reversing severe natural resource degradation. Policies and programmes must take the gender division of labour in agriculture into account. Key recommendations
The Haitian government should:
* Prioritize mobilization of the needed resources to implement its National Agricultural Investment Plan.
* Carry out administrative and fiscal decentralization, with representative government institutions at all levels.
* Support efforts of farmers, rural poor people, and rural women to develop robust, representative organizations.
* Make health care and education available in rural areas and facilitate creation of off-farm employment opportunities, making rural areas attractive places to live and work.