Working in Haiti for four years changes one’s views about development and politics. When asked what Haiti is like, I usually respond that it is like the “real” world. The real world being, to a significant extent, the impoverished world, and also our world where greed and corrupt politics can rule the day. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way; even Haiti has seen periods of real hope.
In 1990, under the popular leadership of President Aristide (elected by a landslide vote), things began to change for the better. It was not to last. In 1994, possibly due to external pressures to liberalize importation policies, rice import taxes were reduced from 35% to 3%, the lowest in the Caribbean. While initially applauded in Haiti due to the availability of cheap imported rice, costs gradually increased and resulted in the decimation of local rice production. This agreement transformed Haiti from being self-sufficient in rice to a net importer and provided huge profits for foreign rice conglomerates.
This neo-liberal approach to relaxed importation policies is repeated throughout the world, in places where protected production models and organizations could support local production, resulting in strong local economies. While shifting the mindset of the international development community, and the many policies adopted by national governments will take time, it is crucial for smallholder farmers who depend on local crop or livestock sales.
Yet there is hope in Haiti. ISCA has proven through its work that sustainable agriculture is one of the best ways to move beyond the charity model. The charity model, while very necessary in emergency situations (such as earthquakes), does not work as a development method. Sustainable agriculture is one of the best ways to create local economic activity and employment. The ISCA poultry project in Northern Haiti has created four long term sustainable jobs while almost doubling the income of 27 Haitian families!
In the end, Haitians are no different than you or me. They want to live in a country where everyone has enough food, good housing, and fair wages so that they can provide for their family. ISCA’s work in Haiti has grown local economies, and as a result, brought the light of hope to the cutting edge of empire.
Blog entry written by ISCA Secretary/Treasurer David MacKay