Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the agency is shipping surplus American peanuts to help feed 140,000 food insecure schoolchildren in Haiti. According to the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), there are more than 3.6 million food insecure Haitians. The plan, however, is controversial and more than 60 NGOs—including Food First, Grassroots International, and the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance—are calling for its cancellation.
Peanut production plays a central role in the Haitian economy and forms a critical foundation of its food sovereignty, according to a letter by aid groups to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. The country’s long supply chain serves as a key source of income for more than 500,000 people, most of whom are women. According to Oxfam America and Partners in Health, the donation will flood the Haitian market with foreign crops, disrupting the national production chain and devastating the livelihood of Haitian peanut farmers.
Peanut farmers in Haiti have only recently experienced increased success, aided by efforts from a partnership between the Clinton Foundation—which created the Acceso Peanut Enterprise Corporation—a nonprofit called Meds & Food for Kids, and the University of Georgia. For the past four years, the partnership has helped build a secure depot and drying area for peanuts, conducted farmer training on timely fungicide applications and planting techniques, and provided improved seed varieties and testing for aflatoxin—a fungus that often contaminates peanuts. The efforts have proven fruitful: farmers experienced, on average, a 30 percent increase in income since the intervention. Last January, the U.S. government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative praised the efforts to bolster Haitian peanut production.
This enormous surplus of U.S. peanuts (500 metric tons) is in part due to the 2014 Farm Bill provisions, loan requirements, and low market prices. The legislation tacitly encourages U.S. farmers to increase peanut acreage, even when the national peanut price drops, by providing a guaranteed price subsidy, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The USDA’s Marketing Assistance Loan program further provides a safety net for American farmers by allowing them to give their products to the government as loan repayments if market prices are too low. As a result, farmers turned over enormous amounts of peanuts to the government after peanut prices fell in 2015.
“None of us growers were consulted about the peanut giveaway,” says Don Chase, a Georgia peanut grower and Georgia Peanut Commission board member. “We strive not to create an oversupply, but with worldwide commodity prices dropping many farmers opted to plant peanuts.”
The USDA defends its decision—they say that the peanut donation represents only 1.4 percent of Haiti’s average annual peanut production and could feed thousands of malnourished children for a full school year. “The donated peanuts will be used as morning snacks in USDA/WFP school feeding programs in vulnerable areas of Haiti where malnutrition is high. Before donating the peanuts, USDA worked with WFP to develop a distribution program to ensure that the donation would not negatively affect Haiti’s domestic peanut market,” says USDA press secretary Catherine Cochran. “Nearly a third of Haitian children suffer from stunting, and many students arrive at school in the morning without having eaten breakfast. Peanuts, as a traditional part of the Haitian diet, provide much-needed protein.”
But food aid groups and Haitian farmers claim that unloading the peanut surplus on Haiti amounts to dumping and will result in serious consequences for rural farming communities. Agriculture has long been recognized as a major player in Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has supported a multitude of projects to increase food security and access to markets. The agency increased their commitment to purchase more food aid through local and regional procurement in the 2014 Farm Bill. However, NGO representatives argue that importing large amounts of surplus peanuts into the Haitian market undermines USAID’s own initiatives.