Socialist Worker

Crisis in Haiti as World Bank issues food price warning

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2097

The global crisis over rising food prices continues to grow. Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank, warned last Sunday that the price rises have put 100 million lives under threat.

His fears were echoed by Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations. 'The rapidly escalating crisis of food availability around the world has reached emergency proportions,' he said on Tuesday of this week.

Food riots in Haiti forced the prime minister to step down last Saturday. This followed a week of protests against rises of more than 50 percent for many staple foods in Haiti over the past year.

There has been much finger wagging in the media about the fact that Haiti does not produce enough food to feed its people. But food production in Haiti has been shaped by the needs of global capitalism.

Before 1950 Haiti produced more than 80 percent of its own food and was also an exporter of food. Today Haiti imports 75 percent of its food.


Throughout the 1980s the US pursued a strategy of forcing the country to open its economy to the global market.

The US gave aid to Haitian governments on the condition that they signed structural adjustment programmes that reduced import tariffs and controls, and cut public spending.

These policies had a major impact on agriculture. Poor Haitian farmers – receiving no subsidies from their governments – could not compete with cheap food imports from the US, where the government was happy to subsidise its farmers.

Between 1986 and 1989 the value of US agricultural exports to Haiti more than doubled from $44 million to $95 million.

Poverty compounded the problems facing the country. Low levels of mechanisation, poor irrigation and an inability to afford fertilisers all discouraged farming for domestic consumption and increased Haiti's dependency on imports.

Haiti's farmers have been pushed to produce valuable commodities for export, such as coffee, cocoa and mangoes, rather than staples such as rice.

Rises in global prices of staple foods have a devastating impact on the country's nine million people – 80 percent of whom earn less than $2 a day.

It is the manoeuvrings of rich Western governments that have made Haiti, like many other poor countries, dependent on imports of basic foods.

And it is the madness of the same system that is now forcing food prices up, creating a situation where millions face starvation despite there being enough food to feed them.

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Article information

Tue 15 Apr 2008, 19:24 BST
Issue No. 2097
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