By Gotson Pierre, Francesca Theosmy et Ronald Colbert (French). Translated by Dady Chery for Axis of Logic.
Axis of Logic. Alterpress (French)
Since the 1980’s, a series of Haitian administrations have systematically destroyed Haiti’s agriculture in return for U.S. aid. As a result, Haiti’s production of its own food has dropped from over 80% to less than 40%. This has caused real hunger. One of the first blows was the extermination of the Haitian pig during Jean-Claude Duvalier’s regime. The next was flooding of the Haitian market with subsidized Arkansas rice by Clinton’s administration. The last, described below, was the recent introduction of cholera into the Artibonite river with a timing that coincided with the rice harvest and start of a new school year.
- Dady Chery, Haitian Columnist,
Axis of Logic
The cholera epidemic could affect the next rice harvest in the Artibonite. Peasant organizations worry about a risk of impoverishing the growers
Translated by Dady Chery from an original article by Gotson Pierre, Francesca Theosmy et Ronald Colbert, Port-au-Prince, January 27, 2011 - AlterPresse
According to reports to AlterPresse, Haitian Rice producers are putting out the alert about the risk of a major drop in agricultural production and the improverishment of growers, notably in the geographical department of the Artibonite (North), due to the repercussions of the cholera epidemic on Haiti’s agriculture.
“It will not be easy to recover the losses we suffered” these last few months, estimates Assancio Jacques, the leader of the Artibonite region’s peasant protest movement the National Party of Peasant Organizations in Haiti (Morepla).
Even as Haitian growers organize the next harvest, which will occur in March and April 2011, they are calling on the government to take greater responsibility in supporting them.
As ever, this continues to be a leitmotif -- a fundamental protest of Haiti’s rural sector.
After the Plateau Central (North East), the Artibonite is the second department where the cholera was discovered. It is the region of Haiti that produces the most rice. It was also one of the first hit by the epidemic, which extended to all the departments, causing over 4,000 casualties as of today.
The Lower Artibonite, where most rice and food crops are still grown, currently supports 18 to 20% of Haiti’s consumption of rice, with a production of 76,000 to 80,000 tons of rice.
News of the epidemic in October 2010 created a serious problem. The growers suffered heavy losses due to difficulties with guaranteeing the harvest, bringing their product to market, and finding customers in the climate of fear brought on by the epidemic, explained Jacques.
When the epidemic hit, Grande Saline, Desdunes et Lestère, the towns most afflicted in the Artibonite region, were right in the midst of their harvest, indicated Assancio Jacques.
Special requirements for agricultural workers in the Artibonite
As infected workers died of the disease, others became afraid of entering the paddy fields where the rice was growing, in areas fed by the Artibonite River, which had been identified as a vector of the epidemic.
“The workers were very reluctant,” reported Jacques, adding that before starting work, they demanded special measures, such as disinfection of the area with chlorine.
“Some growers had to share, even buy chlorine tablets on the market.”
The epidemic forced an increase in storage fees and rise in worker’s pay
In addition, the cost of agricultural work increased. For a harvest of 240 pounds of rice, U.S. $1.75 had to be paid, instead of $1.25.
After the rice was harvested, the producers had trouble selling it because “The truckers did not come; nor did the buyers.”
This situation lasted several weeks for many growers. “We had to eat our own rice,” Jacques insisted.
As for those who managed to bring their goods to the large market in Pont Sonde (Artibonite), they had to pay rent every day for storing their merchandise, because the buyers from Port-au-Prince would not come to the Artibonite to collect the rice.
This was a hard blow for this sector, because the start of epidemic coincided exactly with a time for major family expenses associated with the new schoolyear (in October 2010, due to the earthquake of January 12th of the same year).
Hundreds of thousands in losses due to the cholera
The losses to the sector in the Artibonite region are estimated at around $800,000, said Assancio Jacques.
“We were forced to denounce on the radio the propaganda that was being circulated about the Artibonite-produced rice,” accusing it of being a vector for cholera.
These recorded problems about rice production affected 80,000 growers in the Artibonite region, 28,000 day workers, 800,000 sellers, and 400 mill owners, according to the statistics from research organizations that support the peasant movement.
The impact is being felt as a drop in the consumption of domestic rice, which was already sufferering from the importation of subsidized foreign rice. The impact is also seen in a huge price drop from $2.50 to $1.50 for 6 pounds of rice.
Emergency measures needed from the government
The administration of President Rene Garcia Preval and Prime Minister Joseph Jean Max Bellerive should put in place emergency measures to improve access to credit and to agricultural tools. There are individuals out there offering loans at 20% interest per month, reported Morepla.
Peasant organizations in the Artibonite criticize the weak government, which took no initiative to allay the consumers’ worries and rebuild their confidence.
It was the rice producers who put together a promotional spot that aired widely for several months. It invited all to “eat heartily” of the Artibonite-produced rice.
Planopa is expressing a great concern for the national economy due to these problems for the agricultural sector ensuing from the cholera epidemic.
Taleus Christophe, speaker for Planopa, complains that the cholera deaths diminished the work force, and in addition caused the survivors to become afraid to work in sectors connected to products that are grown in the paddy fields.
“The government should speak up about what it will do to protect our production.”
Simultaneously, other institutions should take measures to improve the health/hygienic conditions in the markets, recommended the National Party of Peasant Organizations in Haiti.
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by Haitian Author, Dady Chery on Axis of Logic