The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Dumping peanuts on Haiti

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Peanuts being sorted before roasting in Haiti. (Photo: Cory Flanagin)

The people of Haiti deserve better agriculture solutions than extra peanuts from the American people.

When I was working in Haiti for Oxfam following the devastating earthquake in 2010, I became fond of mamba, the local version of peanut butter. It looks a lot like what we would buy here in the USA, but it’s less salty or sweet than the typical American spread. And before taking a big bite out of bread or cassava crackers spread with mamba, you will want to take a much more careful sample, because it’s usually spiced up with Scotch bonnet or habanero chili peppers. Once you get used to this nutty, spicy mix, it is definitely a taste worth acquiring.

The other great thing about mamba is that it is typically made from peanuts grown locally in Haiti.

So I was pretty shocked to read that the US Department of Agriculture is planning to dump 500 metric tons of packaged, dry-roasted peanuts on Haiti as part of its “Stocks for Food” program. This seems to be the offspring of the 1980s giveaway of USDA surplus cheese to food pantries and soup kitchens. It provides commodities that the US government has acquired through its domestic farm price and income support efforts to “feeding programs and food banks both domestically and overseas.”

The peanuts the USDA is shipping to Haiti will feed 140,000 malnourished school children in that country. While that may sound worthwhile, the use of imported peanuts stands in sharp contrast to the way the World Food Programme—with US government support—procures food for school meals from Haitian farmers. For example, WFP gets cheese and milk for 32,000 school children from Lèt Agogo, an initiative of Haitian dairy cooperatives that Oxfam has also supported.

This peanut fiasco sounds way too much like past uses of Haiti as a dumping ground for US agricultural surplus, something that has long concerned Oxfam. In the mid-1990s, the Haitian government acceded to pressure from the United States and others to drop its tariff on imported rice to nearly zero. This led to a flood of foreign rice into the Haitian market, mostly from the US. Haitian rice production plummeted. Bill Clinton, who as President encouraged this trade liberalization in Haiti, has more recently commented:

“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake…. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did.”

We don’t need Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack or President Obama to engage in similar mea culpas down the road. USDA calls the peanut project in Haiti a “prideful use of the nation’s commodities” to help needy people. But helping Haitian peanut farmers to boost their productivity and improve the quality of what they produce—as the US government’s Feed the Future Initiative is doing, along with the Clinton Foundation and Partners in Health—seems like a much better way to help reduce poverty and provide food for Haiti’s school children.

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  1. annehastings1775@gmail.com'Anne Hastings

    I am so pleased to see this piece by Marc Cohen. After living for 17 years in Haiti and reaching the very poorest through a partnership between Fonkoze and Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health), I can tell you this is NO way to help the Haitian people. Peanuts grow tremendously well in Haiti — and Haitian farmers need places to sell their peanuts — like Zanmi Lasante — who uses them to produce Nouri Mamba, a fabulous treatment for malnutrition. Let’s help the farmers in Haiti grow MORE peanuts and strengthen their value chains so they have places to sell them.

    Reply
    1. greta.greathouse@gmail.com'Greta Greathouse

      Anne – thanks for speaking up about this. And a thanks as well to OXFAM for the article. In the context of what Haiti needs, this is a criminally stupid idea. Is our government incapable of learning from past mistakes? Dumping cheap American peanuts will further impoverish Haiti, denying it the opportunity to expand production and find markets for the crop. Do they even think about quantifying the negative impact it will have. That negative impact will be far larger and last far longer then their perceived benefit. The benefit goes only to American growers, while Haitians will suffer income losses and the loss of markets.

      Reply
    2. lizmcd1991@gmail.com'Liz McDermott

      Thank you for your excellent piece, Marc -and great reply, Anne. As a volunteer working with an organization 15 years in the mountainous West Dept (and fortunate to partner with Fonkoze and Medika Mamba/ Meds and Foods for Kids- to do so), we are constantly assessing our methods to determine if we are truly following “best practices”. This proposed peanut dump makes me both angry and ashamed. The goal is to help them be independent- not more dependent. Who MAKES these decisions???

      Reply
    3. fvante@yahoo.com'Frank

      History repeats itself time after time in Haiti. Farmers’ Livelihood is being eliminated by these ill conceived decisions. First, it was the native pigs in the 70’s for imported pigs which are too costly to raise in Haiti. Then came the RICE destruction of Haitian farmers in the 80’s for the benefits of American rice producers. Now the same actors for the rice fiasco are knowingly destroying the livelihoods of Haitians peanut growers with the help of so called humanitarian NGO’s in disguise. In the meantime the unaware donors are stuffing their coffers. Haiti has nothing to show for these one sided, arm twisting tactics but more despair and confusion. Where are the unbiased investigative reporters to report such blatant abuses in the name of “help”?

      Reply
    4. rwstewart@blueyonder.co.uk'Rosalind Stewart

      Wait a minute – Haiti is totally NOT self-sufficient in peanut production. In fact 30% of their peanut crops are blighted by a carcinogenic called aflatoxin. Their mamba producers say they cannot source enough peanuts from Haitian farmers. This is not “dumping” – this is FOOD AID. And the peanuts that the US is donating are going to the remotest parts of Haiti, which has the highest infant mortality and malnourishment rates. Get your facts straight, Mr. Cohen!

      Reply
      1. Marc Cohen

        Thank you for your comment. I did point out that the peanut donation is targeted to malnourished school children, and I don’t think I said anywhere that “Haiti is self-sufficient in peanut production.” As for aflatoxin, part of the Clinton Foundation-Feed the Future collaboration that I highlighted focuses on developing Haiti’s capacity to test for aflatoxin and other mycotoxins, which in turn will help boost the degree of self-sufficiency. The donation of US peanuts IS dumping, since the US government is trying to get rid of peanut surpluses that are generated by the expensive income support payments that it makes to US producers.

        Reply
      2. Marc Cohen

        In addition to my earlier reply, please note that the Clinton Foundation-Feed the Future Project and Partners in Health’s peanut project aim at using Haitian peanuts to produce ready-to-use therapeutic foods to treat malnourished children, rather than importing peanuts that could undercut Haitian farmers. Also, bear in mind that agriculture is the main employer in Haiti, and it receives far too little government support, whereas in the US, just a tiny portion of the workforce farms, but it often enjoys quite generous government payments.

        Reply
  2. Smusc75@yahoo.com'Natacha

    The US government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support Hait’s Agricultural Development, then instead of buying locally grown products to support Haitian school feeding initiatives, they undercut the farmers that they spent millions of dollars supporting, undercutting their own efforts at the same time. Tom Vilsack (USDA and Ertharin Cousin (WFP), how about getting your teams to think before making such deals? Either give the peanuts to US food banks or better yet, SELL the peanuts in developed countries, take 100% of the proceeds and invest them in economic development programs targeting the parents of those school children … With their increased income, they will be able to not only feed their families but also help Haiti’s economy which will lead to SUSTAINABILITY!

    Reply
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  4. bethdanesco@gmail.com'Beth Danesco

    Why, why is the US doing this when we already know what happened when we did the same thing with rice in the 1990s?

    Reply
  5. kellybbbrewer@hotmail.com'Kelly Brewer

    Are the Hatian people the US peanuts are intended for starving now? If so, send them so that they can survive until the peanut crop from their own country should be available to them.

    Reply
    1. Marc Cohen

      Thanks for this comment Kelly. It is true that, due to El Nino, Haiti is currently experiencing severe food insecurity and acute malnutrition among pre-school children. However, this has not risen to the level of a food emergency or a famine. Locally produced food is available in markets, although poor crops last year mean that prices are up. So Haiti is not really facing a starvation scenario like the one you sketch out.

      Reply
      1. hinda@gibbsincv.us'Hinda

        How acute does the malnutrition suffered by the Haitian children have to be BEFORE you are willing to give them food? If I was related to one of those children, I would want them fed.

        Reply
        1. Marc Cohen

          If the problem is acute malnutrition among children, the solution would most likely be ready to use therapeutic foods, such as those that the Clinton Foundation-Feed the Future and Partners in Health projects are developing, using Haitian peanuts. You wouldn’t wait for US peanuts to come in by ship. And you would target children under five, and especially under two, not school-aged kids. Where the food comes from makes a big difference in terms of timeliness and reliability of supply.

          Reply
          1. laroche_sandrine@hotmail.com'sandrine

            Much thanks Marc for your article and great explanation on food security issues. It is clear that with this policy it’s not the Haiti real problem USG wants to solve but only find a solution for the enormous extra peanuts from US farmers grown with millions $ of US tax payers money

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  7. a_raeburn@yahoo.com'Angela Bruce-Raeburn

    At the end of the day – the US may talk about local partnerships and engaging with local actors but that is talk. Instead – there is rarely any real discussions with local people. We made the same mistake with rice. This plan will decimate the local peanut economy and then we will give money in cash for work to the unemployed peanut farmers who will leave their farms – move to already underserved , overcrowded PAP and start the cycle all over again. When will we learn?

    Reply
  8. Pingback: U.S. Peanuts Don’t Belong in Haiti – Haitihub

  9. allanlshelton@truelifehaiti.org'Al Shelton

    This is a terrible idea. First we devastate the sugar cane industry, next we devastate the rice industry and now the US wants to devastate the peanut industry. I have been living in Haiti assisting with the growth of the peanut industry for several years now. If the US really wants to help they should send peanut seed to Haiti or at least take down all of the roadblocks the US peanut industry has created for sending peanut seed to Haiti.

    Reply
  10. pfourre@fonkoze.org'Peg Fourre

    Hi Marc, we’d like to make a statement and I’m wondering if you think Cory Flanagin would let us use the photo you use here. As you know, things are more readily noticed when a photo is included. I assume you have access to my email address, from this post. Thank you.

    Reply
  11. Pingback: The US wants to give peanuts to malnourished Haitian kids. Why is that a problem?

  12. info@ddmamba.com'Jason

    I can’t agree more with this article. We make mamba in Montreal, Canada, and import some of our peanuts from Haiti because we believe that the best way to help the Haitian peanut farmers, and hopefully the Haitian economy in the long run, is by importing goods. And, of course, mamba isn’t mamba without Haitian peanuts! Bon bagay!

    Reply
  13. segundaclase@comcast.net'Al Santana

    let’s see crops got wiped out because of a terrible storm and people are starving and dying of disease. And there is an absurd cheese overproduction in the us government storerooms. how is oxfam helping the starving people? even parachute food drops are more merciful than doing nothing and talking about a coffee crop!

    Reply
    1. Marc Cohen

      Thanks for your comment, Al Santana. The original blog post on the US peanut donation is from April 2016, long before the devastation of Hurricane Matthew. You can read about Oxfam’s work in responding to the hurricane here: https://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/stories/everything-is-destroyed-haitian-families-struggle-in-the-aftermath-of-hurricane-matthew/. Helping to build the long-term resilience of rural Haitian livelihoods is an important part of that response.

      Reply

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