Saturday, November 20, 2010

Haitian Rice and Economic Sense

Haiti's rice farmers are unable to compete with US imports of rice. This is what I heard on a BBC Radio, driving home a couple of days ago.

And why are they unable to compete? It was soon revealed that US is actually dumping rice at extremely low prices, in Haiti. And, obviously, the local farmer cannot compete against the lower prices of this US import which they call, ‘Miami rice’. When he can’t sell it, why would he produce it?

It begs another question - how come US rice is sold at such low prices here? The answer is simple. It is because the US farmers can afford it. They are getting government subsidies!
Not just me, but anyone listening to the programme would have cried, ‘unfair’! And quite rightly so.

Haiti is a poor country struggling to rise up after that devastating earthquake, and the big nations like US are selling Haiti the same food stuff, that Haiti should be encouraged to grow domestically. In fact they are killing the local market by under-cutting on prices of imports. What kind of justice is this?

On reaching home, after a bit of googling, I discovered a few more shocking truths. Haiti’s rice production had actually plummeted over the last twenty years or so, thanks to imports.

In 1980, Haiti was virtually self sufficient, on rice. But today, it actually imports 80% of its rice! Why? It is because western countries forced it to liberalize its economy in 1994. And it had to cut taxes on imports. And quickly, rice imports went up. Local rice production went down. Way, down.

And here’s another interesting tit-bit. Did you know that $434m paid in annual US rice subsidies is more than the total US aid to Haiti of $353 million?

No wonder, therefore, that Oxfam, the International Aid Agency is urging US to stop subsidies on rice to Haiti. According to Oxfam, agriculture must now be a priority for Haiti’s Reconstruction efforts. And it is asking international donors and developed countries to come forward and help Haiti recover. Especially, in contributing to Haiti’s new $772m agriculture plan.
For a start, US should begin promoting agricultural growth in Haiti. And stop its sale of agricultural produce if it can be locally grown by Haitian farmers. And the developed nations must assist Haiti in becoming self-sufficient.

Lao Tzu’s words, ‘Give a man a fish, and you will feed him for a day. But teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a life time’, suddenly ring true here.

So, for Haiti, is it indigenous rice? Or imported rice? Let’s hope that better economic sense will prevail. And not Miami Vice......I mean..... Miami rice.


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