Bill Clinton has come and gone, having announced a basket of goodies for Haitian coffee production, beer brewing and suchlike. I may have missed it but he didn’t mention the word ‘rice’ – the key to helping Haiti help itself again.
Clinton’s weekend visit to Haiti came exactly three years after he publicly apologized for championing policies that destroyed Haiti’s rice production. On March 10, 2010, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his encouragement to Haiti to dramatically cut tariffs on US rice “may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake.”
In 1980, according to Oxfam, Haiti was virtually self sufficient in rice. But today it imports 80% of it (along with 60% of its overall food supply).
It was a “devil’s bargain,” Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee back in 2010, adding in his trademark folksy, I-feel your-pain way, “I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.”
He wasn’t repeating that in Haiti this weekend. It would have brought back too many bad memories and not much good would have come of that.
For, the truth is Haiti’s rice production is so denuded now and Haitian rice farmers so lacking in infrastructure, capital and technology that they simply wouldn’t be able to grow enough rice cheaply to feed the country. Even if the goalposts were moved well back and Haiti were no longer flooded with cheap American rice, it would simply be forced to import cheaply from elsewhere.
Anytime within the next 10 days, 15,000 tonnes of Vietnamese rice is expected to arrive on Haiti’s shores. And so it goes on.
There is a flourishing crop of stories on Haitian rice but not much else.