jueves, 1 de noviembre de 2012
A green revolution needed in Haiti
Link to my latest post on Wordpress A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit Haiti as part of an Earth Institute visit to meet some of the newly appointed government officials from Haiti’s new Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. Our main objective was to gain some on-site understanding of the main bottlenecks in the agriculture sector. There are a lot of studies and papers about this subject but seeing the rice fields with your own eyes adds a new dimension to any desk research. I was lucky enough to have professor Glenn Denning leading the mission. He has a very long and successful career as a rice specialist in Southeastern Asia and his coaching during our travels in the country allowed me to quickly grasp the agricultural policy situation in Haiti. Haiti’s mountainous landscape limits the area that is suitable for investments in the intensification of agriculture. The Artibonite valley, in the central plateau, is Haiti’s “rice bowl”, producing up to 80% of the national rice production. Thanks to the construction of the Peligre Dam in the 1950s and a major irrigation system financed by German aid in the 1970s, the area has the potential to secure the country’s rice stocks and reduce food insecurity. Supporters of market-based mechanisms argue that part of the solution to this inefficient situation would be to charge farmers for the water delivered to their plots to build and maintain secondary and tertiary canals. Another important aspect would be to reduce the subsidies in the rice market to boost local production, a protectionist measure that Haiti’s commercial partners probably wouldn’t support. Both options would mean political suicide given the current political deadlock in the country. The reality is that the very precarious situation of Haiti has created a vicious cycle in the agriculture sector. There are absolutely no incentives for the private sector to invest in Haitian agriculture and there are very important pressures by the donor community to avoid any kind of important government intervention. Our job and the reason the ministry of agriculture has requested technical assistance from the Earth Institute is to support the ministry’s argument that the donor community has to invest in the sector having the government of Haiti act as the implementer of the projects. In this sense, the government needs to understand how much investment is needed in the sector to achieve yield levels that are in line with the two or even three times larger yield levels that similar Caribbean countries have already achieved. The Earth Institute has been working with yield, production and fertilizer data to model the possible economic impacts of strategic agricultural interventions to boost productivity. Factoring this political gridlock into the models is impossible; economists often avoid theses types of situations by making certain key assumptions to avoid the hard realities that occur in the development arena. As a recent graduate from the MPA in Development Practice from Columbia University, I recognize that any form of effective policy recommendation will require going beyond the important desk based quantitative modeling. A true political reform is needed, one that recognizes the importance of starting a green revolution to Haiti.