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WFP/ Rein Skullerud

WFP/ Rein Skullerud

12 February 2010

Statement by Counselor Cheryl Mills At the "Supporting a Haitian-Led Food Security Program" Meeting, February 12, 2010

WFP Headquarters in Rome, Italy  

ROME – Thank you Ambassador Benoit.

It is honor to be here to join this panel with Minister Gue, Director General Diouf, Executive Director Sheeran, President Nwanze, Minister Rondo, and our many distinguished guests. We are here today because of our collective commitment to stand with Haiti in this challenging time. I want to give special thanks to Minister Gue for his presentation and his candid assessment of the situation today in Haiti. His insight, energy and consistent openness to working with the international community is an invaluable asset for Haiti’s agricultural sector.

Both Haiti and hunger – in particular, assuring food security – have figured prominently in the United States foreign policy. Both illustrate the critical elevation and role of diplomacy and development that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have pursued since taking office more than a year ago. When the earthquake hit Haiti, President Obama ordered a swift, aggressive and coordinated response – and within 36 hours, Americans were on the ground in Haiti seeking lives to be saved. Within the next hours, days and weeks, civilian and military men and women continued to arrive in Haiti to join the international community in offering emergency and humanitarian support.

As Counselor to the Secretary of State, I have been providing leadership for the U.S. Government’s efforts in these areas — our Haiti Policy and Foreign Assistance Review and Feed the Future, our Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative. While I feel at home in a discussion on Haiti and food security — as it merges two areas that have consumed much of my energy and passion this past year — I am deeply saddened that this discussion has been prompted by the devastating earthquake exactly one month ago today in Haiti.

The earthquake that shook Haiti on January 12, took lives and livelihoods, homes and hospitals, schools and businesses, and so much more. In addition to the incalculable human and physical losses, the earthquake threatened to rob Haiti of something more elusive — a moment, a momentum — what has been one of the more promising moments and positive momentum the country has enjoyed in many years. And that, we cannot let occur.

The relative calm that has marked the Préval Administration allowed for substantial gains in the overall physical security throughout the country. The international community responded with a donor conference in April 2009, with the naming of President Clinton as a new Special Envoy for the United Nations, and with a series of reinvigorated development plans from donors across the world. The development investment plan that my colleagues in the U.S. and I worked on with the Government of Haiti was just one of many in the works.

I am here today to say that the United States will not abandon those plans -- and to urge others not to abandon their plans. Rather, we must redouble our commitment to work together with a single purpose, under a coordinated plan and under the leadership of Haiti. There is still hope in Haiti. There is still opportunity in Haiti. Chief among those opportunities is what we have all gathered here today to discuss — the development of the agriculture sector. The US plan, like many others, had at its core investing in agriculture to take central aim at poverty – the root cause of food insecurity and under-nutrition. While agriculture was most certainly affected by the earthquake — roads and ports were destroyed and markets were and will continue to be disrupted — this damage can be readily repaired. Indeed, a large percent of the agriculture sector remains unaffected.

Since the earthquake struck, I have visited Haiti three times. During each of these visits, President Preval and Prime Minister Bellerive have underscored the enduring importance of agriculture. When asked last Friday what he would like to prioritize for donor investments, President Preval responded without hesitation: “infrastructure and agriculture.”

Given the Government’s stated goal of decentralizing the country, drawing people out of Port-au-Prince will require a robust peri-urban and rural agenda. Here again, the Government of Haiti has observed the critical role that agriculture must play in that effort. If we can put people to work in the agriculture sector, raise their incomes, strengthen their markets, and support them to grow and buy nutritious food, we will enable the long-term decentralization strategy, and provide incentives for Haitians to live and work in areas of the country like the North that are less vulnerable to natural disasters.

To be clear, the opportunity in Haitian agriculture is not without challenges: s mall farms; limited mechanization; low yields; soil erosion; limited access to agricultural inputs; scarce credit; high post-harvest losses; and poor or non-existent rural infrastructure. These are real challenges.

The earthquake both mitigates and exacerbates these challenges. With the upcoming planting season, there will be a greater supply of farm laborers, but there may also be additional mouths to feed.  The destruction of the ports means that trade has been disrupted but farmers may benefit from an increased demand for locally grown food. And though the donor community is committed to supporting Haiti with food aid, this aid must be properly targeted to avoid depressing food prices and hurting farmers.

Already, in this emergency-to-relief-to-recovery phase, the US and other donors have joined forces with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture to fund important cash-for-work programs that are employing displaced people and others in rural areas outside Port-au-Prince. These workers are rehabilitating damaged agricultural infrastructure such as irrigation canals and farm-to-market roads and restoring vital watersheds so that they can withstand the seasonal rains and hurricanes. We are also planning to assist in providing resources for seed and fertilizer to ensure that farmers can capitalize on the planting season.

By giving people the opportunity to earn cash through productive jobs, we create the means for people to purchase what they need, stimulate the local economy and contribute to the country’s long-term foundation for growth. And, by designing and implementing such programs in close cooperation with the Government of Haiti, we can help ensure that emergency efforts build local capacity rather than substitute for it. If we as donors do our job well, we can and should put ourselves out of business.

In July of last year, I had the pleasure of accompanying Minster Gue on a visit to a farming community outside Port-au-Prince. In the months following this visit, a US-Haitian team traveled the country between July and October, visiting farms, watersheds, markets and mills. In the end, they recommended a robust agriculture development strategy focused on three core elements: Grow More, Save More, Sell More.

To grow more, the Government of Haiti and the US government teams determined to focus on small and low productivity producers. To concentrate on staple crops that make up most of the Haitian diet, as well as market vegetables, fruits and crops that improve both nutrition and income.  To invest in irrigation systems that are critical for rapid increases in lowland production of staple crops such as rice and vegetables. To protect fragile environments with environmentally sustainable infrastructure investments through a community integrated watershed management planning framework and hillside tree cropping. And to focus our investments in improved inputs such as seed stock and fertilizer, alongside extension and training to help farmers effectively use these inputs to increase productivity.

To save more, Haiti and the US government determined to increase investments in post-harvest infrastructure and training modules. To encourage farmers and marketers to adopt efficient, improved handling practices. To target investments in farm-to-market roads, given the key role roads can play in stimulating an agriculture economy. And, to work with the Government of Haiti to improve public sector capacity in food safety and food quality by investing in science-based sanitary and phytosanitary systems that meet international standards. 

Finally, to sell more, Haiti and the US government are determined to improve market infrastructure. To target capital investments to market stalls, and storage and collection centers. To provide farmers and agribusinesses with market information, and enhance government-run regulatory systems.  To support market and price information systems that collect accurate market data and relay regional market and price information to guide farmers and market women.  To seek a legal and regulatory environment for private investment in small- and medium-sized agribusinesses and to empower farmers and their associations to benefit from pooled buying power and marketing capability.

In the wake of the earthquake, some of Haiti’s needs and priorities have changed. And we will revise - but, as I said before, we will not abandon, our prior commitments and goals.

As we revisit the pre-quake strategy, I anticipate four new areas of investment in the agriculture sector:

First, we must rebuild the Ministry of Agriculture. Given all the losses Minister Gue and his colleagues sustained through the disaster, the MOA will require both capital and human resource investments.

Second is coordination. Going forward, we must commit to a rapid and transparent information exchange and coordination among all actors in the sector.

Third is engagement with the Dominican Republic. A positive outcome of the earthquake is the Dominican Republic’s strong engagement in Haiti’s reconstruction, notably in agriculture. Under the leadership of their respective Ministers of Agriculture, the two agricultural sectors are enjoying the benefit of coordination which may leverage resources and markets across the island. We now have the opportunity to support an integrated strategy across the two countries.

And fourth is job creation. Now more than ever we must reinvent the agriculture sector as an engine of employment. Many Haitians are in need of both jobs and food. Agriculture is a dual-purpose solution.

In Haiti, we have the chance to deliver something that the global community has long declared a priority: to transition from short-term interventions to addressing the underlying causes of hunger and poverty. The U.S. global hunger and food security initiative - Feed the Future - embraces this challenge, calling upon development partners to invest in country-led plans that provide a comprehensive approach to substantially and sustainably reduce hunger and poverty.

As I have gone about my work on and in Haiti this past year, I have, at times, been accused of uncharacteristic optimism. If that must be true in only one area of my life, I haven’t the slightest regret that it is in this instance. I do believe there is a bright future for Haiti. For a country of more than nine million endowed with valuable natural resources, a rich culture and history of empowerment and resilience, surrounded by peaceful and economically stable neighbors, I see every reason for optimism. If we all have the strength of but one Haitian, we will succeed.

As we move on from this conference and resume our work at home in our Ministries and Departments, we must be guided by the faith of the Haitians themselves that tomorrow will be better than today. We must seize the opportunity in agriculture in the midst this tragedy. This sector has taken on renewed importance — and, our collective ability to develop the agriculture economy will be directly linked to the success of Haiti’s plan for decentralization. The U.S. stands ready to engage with Minister Gue and the rest of the international community, to get behind one plan, led by the Government of Haiti. Because as Secretary Clinton always says, “the future of Haiti, belongs to Haiti.”

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