Haiti’s National Action Plan: Is It A Spoof?

By Mervyn Claxton, April 8, 2010

The following article was posted to the website of Professor Norman Girvan, http://www.normangirvan.info/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/claxton-haitis-national-action-plan.pdf.  He is Professorial Research Fellow at the Graduate Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. Mervyn Claxton is a consultant in Trinidad and Tobago and a former international civil servant with UNESCO who has written widely on the subject of Culture and Development.

Although the Haitian Government's National Action Plan for Reconstruction and Development states that "The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) was conducted by a joint team composed of national and international experts with the active participation of representatives of NGOs and the Haitian civil society", it was obviously prepared by American and/or World Bank/UN system "experts". The document adopts a Northern approach and it is informed by Northern concepts. Norman’s comments re the significant omissions in the document - food sovereignty, prioritising agriculture and reforestation, and community organisation - as well "the telling references to the role of the private sector and an open economy" are most apt. They reinforce my own conviction re the document's authorship.

However, no one who is familiar with how the international community actually functions could have realistically expected otherwise. Apart from the fact that Haiti's civil service has been decapitated by the Hurricane, thus depriving the government of the little official expertise it had, some very relevant expertise in certain sectors, like agriculture for example, exists in civil society organisations but, if they were consulted (and as you say, there are conflicting accounts on that score) no trace of their well-known views can be found in the National Plan. "He who pays the piper calls the tune" and no way would heavy-weight donors ($100 million plus) allow Haiti to use their money in its national interest. Whatever funds are actually disbursed will be in the donor's' (commercial or strategic) interests. One can be sure of that.

Reading the Plan makes me all the more convinced of the importance of, and the absolute need for, an agriculture-driven development strategy for Haiti. But since such a strategy would be based essentially on peasant farmer agriculture, it is of no interest to the "donors". That type of agriculture does not generate a demand for Northern products. Moreover, neither the World Bank or Northern countries would want Haitian peasant agriculture to deprive urban garment sweat-shop factories, which are making goods for the export sector, of cheap labour or to drive up the costs of such labour. As a result, prioritizing agriculture was simply  out of the question.

Even so, I was astonished that "agriculture" does not appear as one of the thirty chapter sub -eadings in the Plan's summary at the beginning of the document! Agriculture livestock, fisheries and food are all subsumed under one of those 30 sub-headings: RE-LAUNCH OF NATIONAL PRODUCTION!!! To make matters worse, agriculture does not feature either among the IMMEDIATE PROJECTS FOR THE FUTURE, which are grouped under the following four programmes: Infrastructure programs: the national transport network including the road grid; electrification; reconstruction of devastated areas and urban renewal. Nor is it to be found under any of "the fifteen sites" under those four programmes, over which the Post Earthquake Action Plan is spread:

Governance: justice and security, restart of the public administration, territorial planning and local development. Reducing vulnerability of the people and basic services: education, health, preparation for the hurricane season, PIIP job creation program, peoples’ housing and watershed management. Economic Growth: recovery in domestic production, cultural production, economic and financial systems, creation of jobs.

The National Plan is a caricature. One can't help wondering whether it is a spoof or a tongue-in-cheek document designed to make the reader wonder whether it is for real or not. That strange impression is reinforced by the way in which agriculture is described where it appears under the sub-heading RE- LAUNCH OF NATIONAL PRODUCTION, which belies the manner in which it has been totally sidelined in the Plan:

"Agriculture livestock, fisheries and food weigh heavily on the socioeconomic situation and the future of the country. Today, agriculture remains the largest employment generator sector in Haiti: it occupies over 50% of the workforce. Therefore agriculture is one of the pillars of the country's stability, an essential axis of its development."

It looks as if the Plan was dictated to a reluctant Haitian government by the Donors, and the former, as an act of rebellion, slipped in that paragraph, so much is it at variance with both the tenor of, and the priority areas selected for, the Plan! A sectoral activity that weighs heavily on the socioeconomic situation in Haiti (which is of the utmost importance and urgency given the widespread destruction and socio-economic dislocation caused by the earthquake); which is the largest employment generator sector in the country, employing over 50% of the workforce; which is one of the pillars of the country's stability, and which is an essential axis of its development, is not even included among the IMMEDIATE PROJECTS FOR THE FUTURE!

I have made up my mind. The National Action Plan must be a spoof! No one can possibly read it with a straight face. I must congratulate the Haitian government for pulling a fast one on the international community, by slipping in that paragraph which torpedoes the entire document. But that is not all. The spoof continues in the following paragraph, which appears under the same sub-heading: RE-LAUNCH OF NATIONAL PRODUCTION.

"Some agricultural practices and crop choices motivated by the dynamics of market prices generate a reduction of wooded land, which has the effect of increasing erosion, reducing soil quality and the quality of coastal fishing zones, increasing the frequency and strength of floods which, in turn, periodically cause the destruction of facilities and transport infrastructure that are strategic for agriculture and the economy in general and cause the destruction of houses, crops and significant losses of agricultural land. Agriculture and marketing structure for agricultural products therefore have a significant impact on the country's environment and the vulnerability of the territory and its population. These environmental impacts are a threat to the viability of the territory and the Haitian State."

It is not necessary to draw the reader's attention to the overwhelming, cumulative importance, for the country, of those agriculture-related destructive effects I have underlined. They call for an urgent, fundamental change in past and current "agricultural practices and crop choices". But what does the Plan offer? Under the rubric, THE IMPLEMENTATION OF 5 PROGRAMMES [IS] TARGETED we see: "The first program will provide funding for the purchase and distribution of fertilizer, seeds, ploughing equipment, tractors for the farmers as well as tools and fishing equipment for fishermen at reasonable price so as to increase productivity."

The purchase of (chemical, fossil fuel-based) fertilizer, (High-yielding or genetically-modified) seeds, ploughing equipment (which, because it has been found to destroy thin, tropical topsoils and cause serious erosion, thus considerably reducing agricultural productivity, is increasingly being replaced by low- or no-tillage techniques, even in the North where soils are deeper and less prone to erosion), tractors for the farmers (which have the same environmentally-destructive effects), as well as tools and fishing equipment. That paragraph, which is totally at variance with the conditions described in the preceding one, must have been inserted by the international "experts" who "assisted" in the drafting of the document, in order to generate commercial orders from Donor countries. After all, that is what Haiti's National Plan is all about! Moreover, there is no mention at all of agroecology, which is the most effective, proven method for combating the very serious environmentally-damaging effects described in the paragraph.

Finally (I can go on and on but the document is much too depressing!), the following paragraph reinforces the impression of a spoof:

"There is a risk of malnutrition rates rising during the rainy season. The detection and the treatment of malnutrition will have to be improved so as to ensure coverage throughout the territory. A security net that targets households at risk will be put into place and around 495,000 children below the age of 5 and 200,000 pregnant and lactating mothers will be given additional nutritional supplements. More generally, acute malnutrition among children (between 6 and 69 months) will have to be managed through the distribution of supplements and the setting up of a national system of 10,000 multipurpose agents and 45,000 assistants at the community level to implement a malnutrition prevention program."

If that paragraph was not a spoof or written tongue-in-cheek, there would surely be a link made between malnutrition and food availability, which would best be assured by increasing local food production. But no such link is made. Haitians apparently suffer from a unique type of malnutrition - one that has nothing at all to do with food. Perhaps, in Haiti, malnutrition is an infectious disease that can be cured only by "nutritional supplements", which would naturally have to be imported from Donor countries!

That alarming paragraph on malnutrition is another major reason (in addition to those in the other paragraphs cited above) for Haiti to urgently launch an agriculture-driven national development strategy. But not only does the Plan not envisage that but it has also completely sidelined agriculture, going so far as to studiously avoid mentioning the word "agriculture," even in a context where its omission is the height of absurdity. That is why I am completely convinced that the plan is a spoof.