Kim Lamberty: Racism, Colonialism and Haiti

Below is the text version of a presentation by Quixote Center Executive Director Kim Lamberty, DMin upon receiving Pax Christi’s 14th Annual Peacemaker Award, November 7, 2021. A video of the presentation is below.

Thank you. I have worked with many of you for a long time and it is special to be recognized by one’s peers and communities.  Thanks also to each of you present this evening –I am feeling the love. 

Tonight I will look briefly at a history of racism and colonialism through the lens of Haiti and Haiti’s history.  The idea is in part to refocus on Haiti, given the current situation of extreme violence, food insecurity, vulnerability. In talking about Haiti I am also going to talk about the ways in which a racist, colonial economic system is still at play, and offer some thoughts about what we can be doing differently.

Brief narrative of Haiti’s history 

In 1492, Columbus landed on the island known as Haiti by the indigenous Taino population, and promptly renamed it Hispaniola.  He established the first Spanish settlement there, and after successive Spanish settlements, within 100 years the indigenous population had been destroyed. By the late 1600s, the half of the island that is known as Haiti had been ceded to the French, who turned it into a giant coffee and sugar plantation. At its peak, half of the Atlantic slave trade went to Haiti. This plantation economy depended on the deforestation of high-value trees, extreme violence toward the people who they had enslaved, and forced conversion to Catholicism. By the time of the Haitian revolution, the French side of the island was the world’s top producer of coffee and sugar and France’s most profitable colony. One out of every 8 people in France derived their living from this trade, which was entirely dependent on the enslavement of Africans.

Analogous stories happened in other European colonies. Haiti was one of the most profitable, but the other European countries also earned extraordinary profits through colonizing, pilfering, and enslaving Africans and indigenous. This is where European wealth came from, the same wealth that, for example, provided funding for religious orders and missionary work. 

The Haitian revolution began as a slave rebellion that ultimately defeated Napoleon’s army to form the first Black republic in the Western Hemisphere in 1804.  Thomas Jefferson responded by imposing a trade embargo, and the United States refused to recognize Haiti until 1862. France cut off all trade until the Haitian government agreed to pay them reparations for lost  “human and territorial” property. Haitian went from one of the most profitable territories in the world to a situation of destitution from which it has not recovered. There is much more to the story, such as US occupation, US support for dictators, US interference in democratic elections, US treatment of migrants fleeing an untenable situation, that continued to oppress the people of Haiti over the ensuing decades and centuries.  This is not unlike our history in other Latin American countries, many of whom also have not recovered from what was done to them during the colonial period.

The Poverty-Industrial Complex

European colonialism was based in an ideology of white supremacy and an economic system that enriched some people at the expense of vast forced labor—because if they had to pay people, they would not have gotten nearly so rich. One can draw parallels to today…because paying substandard wages, or paying low prices for natural resources from vulnerable countries, still makes some people very rich and others very poor. So now let’s jump ahead to today, a situation where Haitians frequently refer to their own country as the Republic of NGOs. I call it the poverty-industrial complex.

Economically vulnerable countries, such as Haiti, are also home to many of the natural resources required to sustain the lifestyles of wealthier countries. Coffee is one of them, and hopefully by the end of this conversation, you will see why I got into the coffee business. Obviously there are many other commodities that one could focus on. 

The economic system that we are all functioning in is focused on maximizing shareholder wealth. Companies buy natural resources, or the labor it takes to produce their product, at the lowest possible amount they possibly can, and sell the finished product for the highest possible amount they can, keeping the profits from those sales for themselves, and their shareholders, which are often one and the same. They get cheap labor and resources from vulnerable communities and countries who are kept in a permanent state of need because they are never paid enough to live on. Consumers—that is you and me—are complicit in this system because we are conditioned to pay the lowest amount we possibly can for the goods that we consume, often without doing the work to understand the impact on labor, as well as on producers, in vulnerable countries. It also takes an environmental toll because resources are extracted in the cheapest manner possible without regard to impact on the planet.

Obviously there are exceptions, both on the industry side and on the consumption side. But by and large this is what we are dealing with in terms of how wealth is generated. From profits.

The NGOs come in to mop up the mess in poor countries and communities, trying to bridge the gap between what people are getting paid for goods and services, and what they actually need to live on. NGOs raise money from the exact same people—the wealthy—in other words, from many of the same people who are profiting off of poverty. There is a lot of money to be made off of poverty, which is why we still have it.

Let’s take the coffee industry. Coffee is a top export from economically vulnerable countries, so it is worth looking at. It impacts 25 million small scale growers, or around 100 million people total, although most coffee is grown on large plantations owned by wealthy landholders. The current international price for coffee is between 2 and 3 bucks per pound, which is actually quite high by historical standards. In most cases, that money goes to a plantation owner, who pays very low wages (or none at all) to hired labor for what is very difficult work. We also know that there is slave labor in the coffee supply chain, in particular in Brazil, which is the top global exporter of coffee. In some cases, when small farmers have formed cooperatives, they get a larger portion of that money, but a chunk of it still goes to the coop to pay for its own expenses and salaries. And how much do you pay for a pound of coffee? Studies have shown that the bulk of the income from coffee sales goes to large roasters, who are the ones making the profits.

The people making the profits give from their excess to NGOs, who then use a substantial amount of that money to pay their own salaries, and to create the infrastructure needed to deliver aid. This means paying for offices, trucks, warehouses, computers—etc., in addition to their own salaries, which are often very substantial.  It is really hard to find information about how much actual cash gets into the hands of people in need, because organizations include their own salaries and infrastructure in their reported “program costs.” What would happen if we just took all that money and gave it to people in need? People know what to do with it. Instead, we have developed a jobs-creation program for people such as myself. It is an industry that depends on poverty to survive, and a whole lot of jobs are at stake. Many of them are connected to churches.

I have heard numerous Haitians point this out: Money that gets raised for Haiti does not go to Haiti—it goes to aid workers. My question is, how is the poverty industrial complex that I am describing not still colonialism? 

The Cost of Colonialism

People kept in a permanent state of need will take action to support and protect themselves and their families. If they have the opportunity, they will migrate to a place where they think they have a better chance of making a living—and so we are seeing the huge cost of the poverty-industrial complex at our borders, and at borders around the globe. What’s happening at the US-Mexico border is minuscule compared to what is happening in Africa, home to the largest refugee camps in the world. 

Economically vulnerable people also join armed groups as a way to resolve their lives. In Colombia, I had conversations with people who simply said that young people are joining armed groups because they have no other economic opportunity. Studies have been done that confirm that this dynamic exists elsewhere: young people in particular will join armed groups if they think they do not have other options for making a living. This is just as true in the US as it is in Haiti, Colombia, Palestine, and Guatemala.

Many of our interventions into this dynamic take place in order to alleviate the damage done without addressing the root cause of the damage. We have the best of intentions when we work to change US immigration policy, or when we provide support for migrant camps, or we oppose the sale of weapons, or we do gang intervention work. And obviously, we have to do those things, and it’s not likely that these symptoms of a much larger problem are going away any time soon. 

According to the Gospel, “The poor you will always have with you.” (Matthew 26:11) The poor we will always have with us because there will always be natural disasters, or pandemics, or other catastrophes that befall us—it is the human condition. We live in a state of insecurity, and there will always be a need for a selfless response to those in need. So I’m not saying that all aid is bad, and during my time at CRS I saw some great examples of aid at work. But the conditions we see right now—extreme endemic poverty in places like Haiti, widespread food insecurity, violence, and a global migration crisis—these things do not always have to be with us. 

In order for those things to not always be with us, we need to get beyond addressing the symptoms, and get to the actual causes. If you want peace, work for justice! Paul VI was right—he just didn’t come up with the right or complete remedy. At the end of Populorum Progressio he advised everyone to contribute to the aid organizations!

Frequently, when we say we are addressing the root cause what we are actually doing is shoring up the poverty-industrial complex, rather than focusing on dismantling the systems and structures that will lead to significantly increased income generation for vulnerable families and communities. In other words, it’s not good enough to develop an industrial campus in northern Haiti—what the Clintons did—if the jobs don’t pay well enough to live on and local farmers are displaced. It’s not enough to develop a coffee program in a vulnerable community if all the growers get is a dollar or two dollars a pound—because that helps the roasters in the US but does not bring producers out of poverty. I don’t even like using the term “root cause” anymore, because it has been co-opted.

People are poor because they don’t have enough money, or assets to generate money. This is not rocket science. If society wanted to fix this, it would. The problem is that really fixing it would require economic sacrifice on the part of the wealthy. 

What Justice Looks Like

We started Just Haiti to address these economic justice issues. The organization is run by an all-volunteer team of 9 people. Each of us has another job, and each of us plays a significant role in Just Haiti operations.  We pay the highest price for green coffee in the industry, and all profits from sales go to the growers—because as we noted earlier, wealth is generated from profits. Our producers tell us that they use the profits to pay school fees for their kids, to cover unexpected medical expenses, to plant food crops, or to grow their coffee business. Our work is another level of ethics than what is practiced by most NGOs, even the most progressive ones.

People tell me it is unsustainable, and I say really? What is it actually and concretely going to take for us to reverse and dismantle a racist, colonial economic system? What we are doing at Just Haiti is at least part of what it is going to take, because what we are doing is actually dismantling it. What would happen if everyone did it? And a shout out to the Just Haiti board, a wonderful community of volunteers that it is my privilege to work with. They are making many personal sacrifices –it is a lot of work to run the organization and we do it together. Community is what makes this work fun as well as sustainable, and we have developed a fabulous community over the years. And by the way, you can buy our coffee at justhaiti.org.

The Quixote Center, where I just took over as executive director, is engaging in some similar cutting edge work in another part of Haiti which does not involve coffee or exports but does involve agricultural development. I just started as part of the Quixote Center community, but my expectation is that it will be just as much fun and sustaining.

I’m sure that many of you already buy fair trade products. Unfortunately, not all fair trade is alike. If your favorite fair trade company advertises that it is using its profits to install a water system in its producer communities, then they are also part of the poverty-industrial complex. Why aren’t they paying their growers enough so that the community can purchase and maintain its own water system? So buy fair trade—it is a huge step in the right direction—but buy it with a discerning eye and ask questions about how the proceeds are used. 

There are other things we can do that most of you already know about: support local farmers, purchase from black and brown-owned businesses, do business with registered B Corps. I invite each one of us has to be very intentional about this as an act of anti-racism, as violence prevention, and as a means to dismantle an unjust economic system. 

It’s not enough, unfortunately. The vast majority of CEOs are never going to give up their lucrative salaries for the sake of a better standard of living for workers and producers, whether in the US or elsewhere. It can, however, be addressed through the tax code. Right now, we have a tax system that favors the wealthy because of the low rates levied against high income and against capital gains, which come from stock sales. The incentive is to collect greater and greater income, especially through stock, because it isn’t taxed all that much. De-incentivize it through the tax code by increasing tax rates on the wealthy. Getting involved in advocacy on tax as well as wage issues is also a part of the solution. 

 There are lots of other ideas and suggestions that I am sure many of you could add. The point I want to leave you with is that I think the cutting-edge work right now is the economic system. While many folks in wealthy countries are doing well, the gap between rich and poor has gotten astronomical in the last few decades. And the point of talking about Just Haiti is to say that there are concrete things we can do to dismantle this system. 

Luann Mostello told me she hoped my presentation would spark interest in engagement with Haiti, and I hope that, too. And at the same time, as already noted, Haiti has way too many NGO actors from the United States already. My perspective on this is that instead of establishing more siloed projects, we do a better job in Haiti working in partnership, pooling our resources, to support cutting-edge work that dismantles an unjust, oppressive economic system. Through partnerships, Just Haiti has worked to replicate our model, with some great successes and some failures as well. We learn from our failures and do better the next time. I would really like to replicate the Quixote Center’s work in other communities as well. I have been the long-term consultant for a sisters of Notre Dame deNamur project in Les Cayes that established a local bakery—I would like to see that project replicated. Given the violence, insecurity, and vulnerability to natural disasters, Haiti remains a challenging place to work. And at the same time, given the history of racism, colonialism, and exploitation on the part of the US, it seems to me that Haiti is exactly where we belong.

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Daily Dispatch 4/1/2019


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Daily Dispatch

April 1, 2019


Trump is a child. But, U.S. Foreign Aid to Central America DOES need serious re-evaluation

Trump announced over the weekend that he was suspending aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador because those governments were not doing enough to stop emigration. Does it matter? The symbolic weight of the announcement is significant. By playing to the two greatest shibboleths of the right-wing when they think of other countries (foreign aid and immigration), Trump’s tantrum continues to lower the bar on rhetoric. However, what it will actually mean to people in Central America is probably not much.

The amount of money at stake, mentioned in several media accounts, is $700 million. Though exactly how they came to this figure is hard to know. U.S. foreign aid obligations to these three countries in fiscal year 2018 totals just $142 million (Guatemala $66 million, El Salvador $46 million, Honduras $30 million). These figures are already significantly cut from fiscal year 2017 when obligations totaled $556 million (Guatemala $257 million, El Salvador $118 million, Honduras $181 million). Combining fiscal years 2017 and 2018 gets one to $700 million, but certainly most of 2017 has been delivered already, and much of 2018 assistance has already been contracted. So, exactly what is going to be cut is far from clear. Indeed, embassy staff don’t even know what Trump means.

Cutting foreign aid does not reduce the flow of money to governments by much. Why? A lot of foreign aid never even leaves the U.S. It is transferred from the accounts of a U.S. government implementing agency to a U.S based non-governmental organization, or Department of Defense contractor. Some portion eventually makes it to the country in question when program expenditures are made on-site. However, the only money that governments in the region are likely to touch is security assistance. Of course, depending on the program they may not even get to control this (if the contract is for police training, for example, the government may have to expend its own resources to participate in the program – the actual trainers are paid through a contract with a U.S. entity). At the end of the day, World Vision and Catholic Relief Services (and the people they directly serve) will lose more money than the government of Guatemala, assuming anything is actually cut.

Which brings us to another irony of foreign “aid.” Receiving countries often expend more of their own resources to participate in these programs than the U.S. government does. In 2014, following a peak in unaccompanied children migrating to the United States, the governments of Central America and Mexico announced the “Alliance for Prosperity.” The idea was to increase public and private investment in southern Mexico and the “Northern Triangle” as a means to create jobs and thus offset pressure to migrate. The governments of the region pledged far more than the United States did. The U.S. government ultimately failed to live up to the commitment made by the Obama administration and, as we can see, prior to this weekend’s Trump tantrum, had already cut foreign assistance to Central America by nearly 67%.

Total investment over the five years of the plan was initially set at $22 billion, most of it coming from host governments. The United States promised to provide $1 billion per year over five years, but in 2016, total US funding for all of Central America was shy of $750 million. The US government counts funding for development, military assistance, and the continuation of the Central America Regional Security Initiative, which is Washington’s anti-narcotics strategy in the region, as part of the Alliance for Prosperity.

U.S. foreign “aid” is often little more than a subsidy to U.S. companies. In December, a $10 billion package of “aid” was announced, $4.8 billion for Mexico and $5.8 billion for Central America as part of the Alliance for Prosperity. None of it was aid in any traditional way of thinking about development assistance. It was all investment guarantees from OPIC:

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation “is prepared to invest and mobilize $2 billion in additional funds for projects in southern Mexico that are viable and attract private sector investment,” according to the statement. “This amount is in addition to the $2.8 billion in projects for Mexico through OPIC’s current investment pipeline.”

To be clear, this is not money going to a country’s government, but an investment guarantee to a U.S. company or partner corporation, to alleviate any risk from investments in Mexico and Central America. Of course, the debt accumulated through OPIC loans, should anything go wrong, will become the public debt of the countries in the region. This is capitalism at its finest (socialize risk, privatize gain). As this money is going to U.S. companies and regional partners, none of it is likely to get cut.

Which brings us back to the questions, what did Trump cut exactly, and does it matter? The answers seem to be: No one really knows for sure, and probably not much.

When the Alliance for Prosperity was first announced, many saw it as a backdoor to revive the failed Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) investment corridor; a mammoth investment program to create transportation and energy networks in Central America to ease the entry of extractive industries. Seeing the PPP as a path to even more pillage, people of the region resoundingly rejected it in 2003-4. However, the implementation of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. security regional initiative CARSI, and the more recent Alliance for Prosperity all add up to the same neo-liberalization at the point of a gun that the PPP represented. The same instantiation of capitalist relations that people are fleeing (poverty and violence). The same political configuration that keeps the wealthy in power in the Northern Triangle and keeps investment channels open. Trump is not touching this.

Rather, it appears Trump is cutting food aid and police training. Indeed, beyond virtue signaling to his base, he may not even be doing this. However, in criticizing this move, whatever it actually turns out to be, we must also be careful not to celebrate U.S. foreign aid as a solution to dealing with the “roots of migration.” As formulated over the years, it is often part of the problem.

 

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Climate Change Refugees and Haiti

Environmental changes have always been a driving force for migration. From natural disasters to drought and flooding, changes in the environment impact lives and livelihoods, forcing people to abandon their homes. Over the last 40 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people forced to migrate as a result of environmental factors. Catastrophic storms are more common, areas suffering from prolonged drought have tripled in the last 40 years, and rising sea levels put coastal communities at risk. By 2050, the International Office of Migration estimates that as many as 250 million people could be displaced as the result of environmental impacts. Unlike those displaced by war or systemic violence, people forcibly displaced as the result of environmental change are rarely recognized as refugees when they cross borders.

Forced migration due to effects of climate change will impact all countries. The United States could see 13 million people internally displaced as a result of rising sea levels by 2045, especially along the east and gulf coasts. The majority of the communities facing permanent inundation are socioeconomically vulnerable communities. Around the globe, drought has already led to displacement and related social tensions as rural communities are forced to move to urban areas. The origins of social conflict and violence are certainly complex, but as climate change forces the movement of people, tensions increase. In Syria, for example, “record drought and massive crop failure beginning in 2006 led to the mass migration of predominately Sunni farmers to Alawi-dominated cities, increasing sectarian tensions and generating conflicts over diminished resources.” Rising food prices in 2007 and 2008, from drought and increased transportation costs, led to protests across the globe, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. The UN estimates 144 million people were driven into poverty by the increase in food prices by 2011. In Niger alone, 5.1 million people became food “insecure.”

In Haiti the intersection of environmental degradation, climate change and forced migration is apparent. At the root of this crisis is the transformation of the rural economy that began under the U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1934. Haiti’s economy was re-engineered as an export platform to feed U.S. interests, from agriculture to banking. By the mid-20th century deforestation, soil erosion, insecure land tenure and population growth was driving an exodus from rural areas to cities. However, in the last 30 years these trends have accelerated. Under pressure to lower tariffs for imports from the United States, Haiti saw the local market for staple crops such as rice collapse. De-forestation accelerated, leading to a situation today where only 3% of Haiti’s tree canopy remains. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced, forced into urban areas not equipped to handle the influx of people. Today, less than half of Port-au-Prince’s population was born there. Areas like Cite Soleil, with over 400,000 people, are overcrowded and under-resourced. The rapid growth of insecure building and overcrowding is the reason that the 2010 earthquake was so deadly, killing up to 300,000 people.

People migrating to major cities like Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, and Cap-Haitien are in effect moving to coastal areas. Here rising seas, more intense storms, and areas of extreme drought combine to create a recipe for recurrent disasters. Mudslides in 2004 killed tens of thousands of people near Gonaives, as treeless hillsides collapsed on the city. Every new storm brings with it the risk of crop failure, flooding and further soil erosion. Overcrowding has also increased the risks of disease. When UN troops introduced cholera in to Haiti in 2010, the disease spread rapidly, killing 9,400 individuals and infecting hundreds of thousands of people.

Interconnected with the process of internal displacement is outward migration. Nearly one million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, primarily seeking work on sugar plantations and other agricultural positions. Tensions have resurfaced in recent years leading to mass expulsions of Haitians from the Dominican Republic, whose government denied citizenship to people of Haitian descent. Over the last thirty years, the United States has been the primary destination for Haitians with 650,000 people moving to the U.S. since 1986. However, tensions have mounted within the U.S. over immigration – leading to the suspension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which covered over 50,000 Haitian migrants. Meanwhile, other countries with less restrictive policies are becoming a destination. It is estimated that close to 105,000 Haitians, equivalent to 1% of the population, moved to Chile alone last year.

The confluence of environmental degradation, climate change, and forced migration in Haiti is part of a global process driving people into insecure situations; exacerbating political conflicts and violence. There is no easy solution. Clearly, binding agreements to reduce emissions and move the planet away from a fossil fuel based economy is necessary. Even if this is acheived, the process must be inclusive. Alternative fuels are no panacea if accompanied by the expansion of extractive industries and agricultural practices that further drive forced migration. In the interim, people are already being forced to migrate.

International law is behind the times

The Refugee Convention of 1951 defines a refugee as a person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. The Convention does not cover people who are forced to migrate due to environmental reasons when they cross borders. The result is a variety of short-term measures, such as TPS in the United States, that affords very little protection to people whose status can change overnight. Within the United States, at least, there needs to be more effort to craft lasting solutions, that offer people who previously migrated an opportunity to seek permanent residency.

Currently there are efforts to recraft refugee and migrant laws. For example, the United Nations’ International Office of Migration is overseeing the creation of A Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The draft compact should be completed this year. However, enforcement mechanisms will be limited. In the United States and Europe in particular, migration is re-crafted as a crisis for the receiving country and thus there is resistance to any kind of binding obligations to accept more people. Given the current political environment it is not surprising that Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Compact negotiating process in December last year.

Until there are binding protections afforded to migrants as well as binding agreements to ameliorate the worst impacts of climate change, the world will face increasing migration, accompanied by ongoing political conflict. The current zero-sum, nationalistic orientation of so many, who view migrants as a threat rather than as fellow human beings in need of solidarity, continues to infect any effort for change. We must be better than this.

 

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Food Aid Reform: Cargo Preference

The United States is one of the world’s largest food aid providers, yet its practices are inefficient, in part because of the transportation restrictions. Currently, 50% of all aid given must be sent on U.S.-flagged ships, a rule known as Cargo Preference. The argument for this rule is to maintain a reserve of vessels for times of war, and to support the maritime industry. At the start of 2014 Congress passed some modest food aid reforms in what is known as the Food for Peace Act. These reforms included ways we could more quickly reach the hungry at a lower cost to U.S. taxpayers, such as purchasing local food in the target countries.

The House passed the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 on April 1. Within the bill, Cargo Preference would increase from 50 to 75 percent, meaning the U.S. would have to send 3/4ths of its food aid on U.S.-flagged ships. This would cost an estimated $60 million to the Food for Peace Act, an amount that should be going to feed the hungry, not to transportation. In fact, it is calculated that because of this new rule, 1 million people will miss access to crucial food aid. Catholic Relief Services explains how food programs will be negatively impacted, here.

It is understandable the U.S. Navy and maritime industries are priorities for members of Congress. However, food aid accounts for only 5 percent of government-purchased goods shipped each year – a very small volume. Additionally, 70 percent of the ships approved for Cargo Preference do not even meet military-use criteria. It is difficult to see any added benefit the new Cargo Preference would be providing.

The House has already passed the bill, but there is still time to urge the Senate to vote against it. Please join the campaign to remind your representatives that increased Cargo Preferences would only hurt the hungry and hinder our food aid programs. The modest reforms we gained in January would be negated with the extra costs Cargo Preference demands, keeping our practices inefficient and limited.

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Food Aid Reform: What Happens to America’s Farmers?

The strongest opposition to Food Aid Reform, a system which currently buys and ships U.S.-grown grain to countries in need, seems to becoming from our own farmers. Yet even many farmers recognize the need for more flexibility in U.S. food aid policies, as outlined in this article by Roger Johnson, the president of the National Farmers Union. Fifty years ago, our food aid policies made sense given our surplus of grain. As Johnson points out though, “Our food system has changed drastically in the past 50 years; naturally, our system of international aid must evolve as well.” He also recognizes that, “At a time of such urgent human need and budget constraint, reforms that enable us to reach more hungry people while saving taxpayer dollars, and continue to engage the talent and generosity of American agriculture, are the right choice.” In mid January both the House and Senate passed the Omnibus Spending Bill for fiscal year 2014, which included $35 million that increases U.S. flexibility to buy grain locally from the regions receiving aid. This is a small step in the right direction; let’s keep pushing for more, and bigger, reforms along with the National Farmers Union. Learn more about the National Farmers Union.
Continue Reading

Food Aid Reform: What Happens to America's Farmers?

The strongest opposition to Food Aid Reform, a system which currently buys and ships U.S.-grown grain to countries in need, seems to becoming from our own farmers. Yet even many farmers recognize the need for more flexibility in U.S. food aid policies, as outlined in this article by Roger Johnson, the president of the National Farmers Union. Fifty years ago, our food aid policies made sense given our surplus of grain. As Johnson points out though, “Our food system has changed drastically in the past 50 years; naturally, our system of international aid must evolve as well.” He also recognizes that, “At a time of such urgent human need and budget constraint, reforms that enable us to reach more hungry people while saving taxpayer dollars, and continue to engage the talent and generosity of American agriculture, are the right choice.” In mid January both the House and Senate passed the Omnibus Spending Bill for fiscal year 2014, which included $35 million that increases U.S. flexibility to buy grain locally from the regions receiving aid. This is a small step in the right direction; let’s keep pushing for more, and bigger, reforms along with the National Farmers Union. Learn more about the National Farmers Union.
Continue Reading

Food Aid Reform: It’s On the Bus!

Last month both the House and Senate passed “The Omnibus” spending bill – a $1.1 trillion bill that funds every agency of the government. Among the 1,582 pages is what most consider to be a small victory for Food Aid Reform.

The new bill allocated $35 million for purchasing food aid from local markets. The current practice of buying U.S. food from U.S. farms and shipping it to the beneficiaries is not only inefficient. It also hurts the countries and regions receiving the aid by undercutting market prices for locally grown food. The result is damaging to already fragile local food systems.

Our subsidized food aid can destroy the ability of these recipient nations to feed themselves – the opposite of our intentions. Moreover, the natural disaster in the Philippines highlighted just how unnecessary and wasteful U.S. food aid policies are when it took over 100 days for the food to arrive to a place that already grows enough grain to feed its people.

It is important to note that USAID’s entire food assistance budget is $1.8 billion; $35 million is only a small step in the right direction.

Learn more about USAID’s budget for its food assistance program and the new FY2014 changes. For a summary on Food Aid Reform, here is a great fact sheet, as well as this short clip!

Continue Reading

Food Aid Reform: It's On the Bus!

Last month both the House and Senate passed “The Omnibus” spending bill – a $1.1 trillion bill that funds every agency of the government. Among the 1,582 pages is what most consider to be a small victory for Food Aid Reform.

The new bill allocated $35 million for purchasing food aid from local markets. The current practice of buying U.S. food from U.S. farms and shipping it to the beneficiaries is not only inefficient. It also hurts the countries and regions receiving the aid by undercutting market prices for locally grown food. The result is damaging to already fragile local food systems.

Our subsidized food aid can destroy the ability of these recipient nations to feed themselves – the opposite of our intentions. Moreover, the natural disaster in the Philippines highlighted just how unnecessary and wasteful U.S. food aid policies are when it took over 100 days for the food to arrive to a place that already grows enough grain to feed its people.
It is important to note that USAID’s entire food assistance budget is $1.8 billion; $35 million is only a small step in the right direction.

Learn more about USAID’s budget for its food assistance program and the new FY2014 changes. For a summary on Food Aid Reform, here is a great fact sheet, as well as this short clip!

Continue Reading

Food Aid Reform: Where Does Haiti Fit?

Haiti just passed the 4-year anniversary of its devastating earthquake in January 2010. To mark the event, Global Post published this article, “In Haiti, All Eyes on US to Reform ‘Unjustifiable’ Food Aid Program.” The article highlights that:
  • In Haiti, 6.7 million people – 2/3rds of the population – struggle daily to meet their food needs.
  • The U.S. has spent $200 million giving food aid to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Since 1954, the U.S. has spent $1.5 billion on aid to Haiti.
  • The U.S. is one of the world’s only “Food Dumpers,” continually sending food instead of buying locally produced food in the regions it is helping.
  • The current U.S. food aid policy is hurting Haitian farmers and the potential for Haiti to return to its former capabilities of producing enough food for its own population.
  • Venezuela’s “Down with Hunger” program gave $30 million to 60,000 mothers to both buy food for their families and distribute seeds to farmers.
To this last point, it is interesting to compare that on one country, Venezuela spent $30 million in cash for buying locally produced food. In the new 2014 budget, Congress passed $35 million for the U.S. to use on the same purposes – but that $35 million must stretch worldwide. We are spending only $5 million more for every country than what Venezuela is spending on Haiti alone. For this reason, the article calls the U.S.’s new allocation a “watered-down version” of the full reforms that need to happen. Haiti is the perfect example of how our aid policies are not reaching as many people as they could while simultaneously reducing a country’s capacity to grow so that in the future it won’t need U.S. aid. As one Haitian farmer’s organization put it, “Cash permits people to continue to buy food themselves, on their own and from their own people. We have many people who are hungry. We have people who can only eat once a day. It’s unjustifiable in a country with the capacity to feed itself.” It is unjustifiable. Let’s make sure our practices and tax dollars strengthen our partnership with Haiti instead of hurt their ability to help themselves. Send a letter to your representative to push for greater Food Aid reforms here.
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Let’s Not Make the Same Mistakes

The horrific disaster in the Philippines has rocked political boats around the world. This kind of devastation is predicted to become more frequent as the Earth’s climate continues changing. Even if the Conference on Climate Change takes drastic action (which no reasonable observers expect), the train has left the station on emissions levels, and many scientists now argue that we are barreling past tipping points in climate change. These are depressing propositions to be sure, and they are a sobering reminder that the time to improve our emergency response mechanisms and protocols is right now. As the world struggles to respond to this most recent disaster, it would behoove our leaders to consider policy changes based on the lessons learned from the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti. Particularly, the United States must change the way it distributes food aid, especially in the midst of a disaster. After the earthquake struck in January, the United States spent $140 million on a USAID program that sent food grown in the United States to Haiti. This amount represents nearly three quarters of United States aid to Haiti in following the quake. Sending food to people in need is an intuitive response, but one that is increasingly regarded as both ineffective and counterproductive in the long term for recipients. The reason is that a massive influx of food through an aid program disrupts and re-orders local markets, which are often precarious at the outset. The food aid displaces local producers, and in doing so clears the way for commercial imports of staple crops. This process completely overturns any levels of food sovereignty as countries become reliant on imports to meet their needs. Haiti is a stark example, importing 80% of its rice. This makes sense for farmers in the United States, but not for Haitians, whose country is capable of producing a large enough rice crop each year to be a net exporter.

“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 the 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.” –Bill Clinton

Haiti is now struggling under immense financial pressures that are driving farmers to focus their energy on export crops. Thus, Haiti is in a situation where its farmers produce mangoes and purchase US-grown rice with their earnings. Hardly a sensible system for a country capable of producing its own food and avoiding the layers of middlemen and transaction costs associated with export agriculture. Time for Reform Right now, the Quixote Center is part of a coalition of NGOs and grassroots networks advocating for food aid reform. We are calling for increased flexibility in the system that will allow for more local purchases of food aid when possible. What we hope for is a system that allows rapid and efficient response to all types of food emergencies. In cases where local production is disrupted, sending food to people in need makes sense. However, this public aid should not be used as a tool to prop up United States farmers to the detriment of farmers in recipient countries. Our coalition advocates for changes such that, when possible, food aid comes by making local purchases for people in need. These purchases are more efficient in that the food does not have to travel from Arkansas, and it is more productive in the long term because it increases the viability of local markets and maintains existing levels of food sovereignty. The United States can do better, but whether or not we improve is dependent on Members of Congress now considering Food Aid Reform as part of the Farm Bill. We have set up a system through which you can contact your Member of Congress and express your support for key issues like food reform, aid accountability, and the ongoing displaced persons crisis in Port-au-Prince. If you would like to get more directly involved in the effort to reform our system of food aid, please contact Andrew Hochhalter for more information.
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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    P.O. Box 1950
    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Directions to office:

6305 Ivy Lane, Suite 255. Greenbelt, MD 20770

For public transportation: We are located near the Green Belt metro station (green line)