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Marylynne Steckly

Marylynne Steckly

Buying local food will help Haitian farmers

Gladys Terichow
May 15, 2008

WINNIPEG, Man.—Agricultural production in Haiti has been declining in recent years because farmers cannot compete with lower-cost imported food.

In late April the Canadian government removed restrictions on where Canadian food aid can be purchased. MCC has been advocating for this change which gives MCC and other agencies the flexibility to purchase all food aid within the country or region where food assistance is needed.

“This is exactly the kind of food aid funding that we need,” said MCC service worker Marylynn Steckley, a trade policy analyst from Waterloo, Ontario, now living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Buying food aid from local producers will boost agricultural productivity and farm income in Haiti where two-thirds of the population depends on the agricultural sector to support their families, said Steckley.

Supporting local producers, she added, is in keeping with the goals of a MCC supported organization, Support Local Production—founded in Port-au-Prince in December, 2007 to raise awareness of how buying local food products supports Haitian farmers.

“It's always helpful to buy local food,” said Steckley. “Buying locally encourages farmers to plant again the next year, to maintain their farms, and assists in their ability to continue living in the Haitian countryside, rather than migrating to a city and face unemployment.”

Most Haitian farmers, she said, are subsistence farmers who produce food for their own families and sell produce in local markets and in nearby cities. The amount of food that is available for sale depends on the family and the harvest.

But farmers cannot compete with lower-cost imported food. Steckley said her research shows that in the past year the price of 12 cups of imported rice skyrocketed by 60 per cent from $1.35 to $3.43 and locally grown rice by 31 per cent from $3.78 to $5.48.

Although prices of locally grown food are not increasing as rapidly as imported food, the local prices are also increasing because fuel, fertilizers and other production costs are increasing.

“There has been an increase of commodity prices in almost every area here in Haiti—this is not an issue isolated to food, but to the general cost of living,” said Steckley.

“When prices for all staple commodities increase, farmers and small businesses need to charge more for their products in order to have enough income to purchase other products that their families need.”

MCC provides food aid to orphanages and schools in Haiti to help some of the most vulnerable families, but the current rapid rises in food prices mean that food is now unaffordable to many more families.

Demonstrations against rising food prices turned into riots in early April. Protesters, she said, blame the government for failing to create jobs and control soaring food price.

Steckly said people in Haiti hope that the appointment of a new prime minister will stimulate change. “However, prices remain high and unless the people see a change in the price of rice, and other staples, it is likely that protests will resume,” she added.