The 2012 Farm Bill could reverse a decades-long policy of agricultural subsidies that has undercut Haiti’s local rice production.
By Jacob Kushner
“The pressure by international powers to promote neoliberal policies effected rice production here significantly. Production dropped from 130,000 tons to 60,000 tons overnight,” says Hébert. “We couldn’t compete.”
The policy largely continues today. In 2010 the United States spent more than four times as much on subsidies to help US rice growers than it did to help Haiti’s own agricultural sector recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake, according to data provided by USAID and the non-partisan Environmental Working Group.
“American producers benefit from a double subsidy system — subsidies to their production and subsidies to their exportation. This gives rice that arrives in Haiti a very low price,” said Camille Chalmers, director of the Platform for Alternative Development, an association of Haitian farmers. “The agricultural sector there is practically more like a social (service) sector than an economic one.”
The result is that more than 75 percent of the 440,000 metric tons of rice consumed in Haiti arrives from abroad — and 89 percent of that is cheap, American rice. In March the price in Port-au-Prince for a 55-pound bag of imported, American rice was $22.50 — less than half the price of locally grown Haitian rice, according to Haiti’s agricultural ministry.