|Haiti Archives 1995-1996|
|21/02/96||HAITI-AGRICULTURE: Preval Banks on Agriculture By Ives Marie Chanel|
Copyright 1995 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb 21 (IPS) – If statistics do not lie, then behind the picture of suffering and inexorable decline stamped over the face of the western hemisphere’s poorest country, is a deeper reality: agriculture holds the key to sustained long-term growth.
The Caribbean nation does not produce enough food to feed its seven million people. Peasant farmers are poor. Agriculture is under-funded and largely ignored. The Ministry of Agriculture is top-heavy with paper-pushing bucreaucrats.
But that’s only part of the story.
In fact, during the last four years for which growth figures are available, agriculture has been like a rickety vessel that lists only slightly in the face of storm-force winds. Growth in the sector in 1991 was minus 0.1 percent. 1992: minus 1.1 percent. 1993: minus 2.6 percent. 1994: minus 1.7 percent.
The significance of that litany of ‘minuses’ is seen only when comparison is made with other sectors which have received far more attention and support – and after the embroidery of political turmoil and social upheaval is woven in. A coup against an elected government. Muscular restoration of democracy. Exile of army coupists. Protests. Conflict.
How did agriculture compare? Take manufacturing. Growth in 1991 was minus 17.7, in 1992 minus 21.5 percent, minus 0.8 percent in 1993, and minus 33.3 percent in 1994. Construction? In its latest annual report, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) measures 1992 growth in that sector of Haiti at a traumatic minus 54.0 percent.
President Rene Preval has evidently been reading the figures: he is trying to pump new life into agriculture.
The other day, while hundreds of thousands of residents of the capital were dancing in the streets till sunrise to the music of Carnival bands, Preval was visiting farmers and various associations of planters in the rice-growing valley of Artibonite.
For him, carnival was of less interest than his priority concern: increasing national production by relying on agriculture. Preval underlined his determination by appointing an agronomist as prime minister.
Fifty-five-year-old Rony Smarck, member of the national coordination board of the Lavalas Party, studied agricultural economics in Santiago, Chile between 1963 and 1968. He worked and taught in that South American country, including a stint in the government of President Salvador Allende.
After the military overthrow of the Allende government, Smarck lived in Mexico teaching agricultural economics at the University of Chapingo. He worked with the United Nations as an agricultural expert and in Nicaragua where he was coordinator of research in economic studies.
Returning to Haiti in the mid-1980s, he worked in various non- governmental organistions (NGO’s) devoted to research in the social sciences and in popular media.
At 30.7 percent of the total, Haiti’s urban population is the lowest in Latin America. Argentina’s is 87.4 percent. In the Dominican Republic which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the urban population comprises 63.8 percent of the total. For the region of Latin Amearica as a whole, it is 74.5 percent.
Elected as a ‘’president of the peasants’’, Preval feels he must achieve a substantial increase in farm production in order to reduce Haiti’s dependence on farm produce from abroad – which takes out a large chunk of public expenditure.
To explain his economic policy, Preval made two visits to the Ministry of Agriculture in the last week. He warned workers that agriculture policy should not be confined to paperwork. Reports should not be on the desks of the officials concerned. Rather their recommendations should be implemented.
It is estimated that 70 percent of the state budget for agriculture is spent in urban areas, rather than in direct support programmes for peasant farmers.
Agriculture employs 65 percent of the active population. Farms occupy 37 percent of the total land area. In 1955, farm produce accounted for about 30 percent of Haiti’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In 1994, Haiti imported more than 95 million dollars worth of food products, particularly cereals. According to statistics furnished Feb. 8 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1 of this year, 14,100 tonnes of rice were loaded in American ports on freighters headed for Haiti.
And monthly soya bean oil imports from the United States is estimated at 1,700 metric tonnes.
Estimates of cereal import requirements for this year are around 401,000 tonnes, of which 169,400 are already available for purchase on the commercial market. The rest will come in as food aid.
On Feb. 14, ‘Libete’’, Haiti’s most important weekly, said for any agricultural policy to succeed, the government would have to ensure peasants had effective participation in the decision-making process.
Reporting on resolutions adopted at a symposium dedicated to defining an agricultural policy for the country, and organised by the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture Jan. 1-6, the magazine commented:
‘’Agricultural policy should be formulated by Haitians themselves, and not by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United States Aid for International Development (USAID)’’.
Libete’ also cited a public declaration by Agriculture Minister David Nicolas, who at the beginning of January is reported to have warned foreign organisations to stop interfering in Haiti’s farm policies.
The economic weekly ‘Croissance’ noted in its Feb. 12 issue that agricultural production per capita has been constantly on the decline over the past 10 years.
According to preliminary discussions last week between Preval and Agriculture Ministry technicians, the new government, which will probably be sworn in by the end of February, will have its work cut out.
Irrigation systems will have to be examined, the cost of food supplies, their distribution, the manufacture of farm equipment, training of agricultural technicians, farm credits, and the commercialisation and contents of buffer stocks.
Land reform will also be an important item of the government’s agricultural programme. Less than 24 hours before Preval’s visit to the rice-growing Artibonite Valley, armed clashes occurred there between rival bands of peasants.
Such confrontations, which have caused hundreds of deaths over the last 30 years, are the result of conflicts over land arising from an excessive pressure on the land by poor peasants, who are more often than not in conflict with large landowners. (END/IPS/IMC/FN/96)
Origin: Amsterdam/HAITI-AGRICULTURE/ ----
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