How Foreign Aid Hurts Haitian Farmers

Radio report broadcast on National Public Radio on June 11, 2010 Click here to listen

Photo: Sebastien Narcisse, Students in a makeshift class­room in l’Artibonite, Haiti.

L’Artibonite, a Hait­ian town two hours north of Port-au-Prince, wasn’t dam­aged in this year’s earth­quake. But the for­eign aid that flowed into Haiti after the quake has been a blow to the area.

Most of the peo­ple in l’Artibonite earn their liv­ing by grow­ing and sell­ing rice, Haiti’s sta­ple food. But the influx of for­eign food aid has meant that many Haitians can now get rice for free. As a result, the price of rice in Haiti has plummeted.

Mirana Hon­or­able, a rice farmer, has to choose between sell­ing enough rice to pay for her chil­dren to go to school, and hav­ing enough rice for her fam­ily to eat.

Photo: Mirana Hon­or­able and her daugh­ter, in their home in l’Artibonite.

For the moment, the fam­ily is going hun­gry so the kids can go to school.

Classes are held in a small, one-room church. Black­boards are leaned up on the walls; the kids sit in pews.

On a recent day, fifth graders were study­ing French, fourth graders were study­ing math. The teacher spent lots of time writ­ing out full para­graphs on the board, for chil­dren who could not afford books.

Tuition is about $45. In most years, most of the kids can’t afford to pay all of the tuition. This year, with the prob­lems in the rice mar­ket, the schools is barely get­ting any­thing, accord­ing to Enselm Sim­pliste, the school’s principal.

Sim­pliste isn’t angry that Haitians in Port-au-Prince got free rice. But, he’s sorry there hasn’t been any help up here, away from the earth­quake zone. One for­eigner came a few months ago and asked what they need, he says. But they haven’t heard from him since.