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How U.S. Agricultural Dumping Affects Global Farmers

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This is a good piece on how U.S. farmers dumping surplus peanuts on the Haitian market in the guide of “humanitarian aid” actually just undermines Haitian peanut farmers who can’t compete because they don’t have access to fertilizer and machinery. This of course then drives those farmers off their land and into the cities where they either become even poorer or become the cheap, desperate labor for the outsourced factories of global capitalism. Or alternatively, they migrate to the Dominican Republic, where they are subject to racism and violence. This is a very similar story to what NAFTA did to Mexican farmers, undermining the corn cultures of rural Mexico and forcing those farmers into the maquiladoras, into Mexico City, or to cross the border without papers to work for very low wages in often dangerous industries like meatpacking and construction.

This sort of dumping as foreign aid might seem to serve U.S. foreign policy interests and make Americans feel good but it’s actually pretty disastrous for a nation like Haiti, where masses of poor don’t have food security. What it really does is create a sort of U.S. in 1932 scenario. Remember that in the Great Depression, agricultural overproduction forced the Roosevelt administration to implement the Agricultural Adjustment Administration that notoriously dumped milk and killed young farm animals to reduce supplies and raise prices in order to achieve some level of rural stability through price floors. Well, when the U.S. dumps its surpluses on Mexico or Haiti or wherever, it effectively creates the conditions where the AAA was necessary. Our agricultural policy should consider creating domestic food stability among our allies.

And it’s easy to say “well, those poor people need our food. We should give it to them.” But there’s a history here, including in Haiti, of the long-term effects of these sorts of programs.

The troubled history of U.S. involvement in Haitian agricultural policy has done nothing to ease these suspicions.

In the early 1980s, fearing Haiti’s Creole pigs could spread African swine fever amid a deadly outbreak, the U.S. Congress authorized $23 million to slaughter local pigs and replace them with hybrid pigs from Iowa. The imported pigs struggled to adapt, often became sick and had few litters.

For Haitians, the most bitterly remembered example is the collapse of the local rice market.

Haiti was largely self-sufficient in rice by the mid-1980s. But in subsequent years, Haiti repeatedly slashed tariffs on cheaper imported rice at the behest of the U.S. and the World Bank. As a result, U.S. subsidized rice inundated the market and the Caribbean country roughly the size of Maryland is now the second-biggest export destination for American rice growers, according to the USA Rice Federation.

“If the U.S. really wanted to help Haiti they would focus on serious work improving irrigation and farmers’ access to credit,” said Haitian economist and activist Camille Chalmers, who argues that the peanut aid is mainly about drawing down the U.S. stockpile and benefiting American agribusiness.

But efforts to lead Haiti to self-sufficiency face a slew of chronic obstacles, including political gridlock or instability, severe environmental degradation and neglected rural infrastructure. Although almost 80 percent of rural households farm, the agriculture sector with its persistent litany of natural disasters receives less than 4 percent of Haiti’s budget.

There is of course no question of the difficulties of Haiti, difficulties it should be remembered France and the United States are largely responsible for through isolating the nation of ex-slaves through much of the 19th century, dooming what was formerly the world’s wealthiest colony to poverty. But dumping our surpluses isn’t really helping.

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