The little reported highlight of the March donor conference at the United Nations was the part about what Haitians in Haiti want. I checked. Media coverage focused on the billions donated, doubts about whether pledges will be kept and how to track all that money. Very little ink went into broadcasting what a sample of 1,750 Haitians told donors they want. And it wasn’t just dignity and respect.
I don’t mean to be flip but the few (seriously, like, three) articles which even mention former Haitian journalist and UN spokesperson Michele Montas’ presentation of survey results focused on airy-fairy demands for inclusion, dignity and respect. Why the basic prerequisites for healthy human existence is presented as news, I haven’t a clue. But while businessmen are understood to want tangibles like money, property and ownership the poor are frequently reported by others to want some existential reward–like they can eat inclusion, dignity and respect. The appropriate and more telling question, in keeping with a political and not philosophical discussion, is: what tangibles did the Haitian people demand?
Besides post-disaster relief and the eternal quest for jobs, healthcare and education, Haitians asked to develop their agricultural sector.
Support for agricultural production was stressed as a top priority, including by city-dwellers. All Haitians support increased national agriculture production (instead of dependence on food imports). According to the focus groups, agriculture – perhaps more than other sectors – is considered essential to the country’s wealth and the prevailing sentiment is that the peasantry has been neglected. Invariably, interlocutors made concrete demands for training, equipment, seeds, easier access to credit and the introduction of modern techniques. Agriculture is also seen as a key source of employment: many would rather work on the land rather than seek informal jobs in the towns. All agree that the country can and should become self-sufficient in food.
It would seem the hardest part is done. No one can say they don’t know what Haitians want. (props to the unknown decision-maker who determined that they should be asked what they want ahead of the donor conference) It would seem to make sense then, that all donors–diaspora and development industry–will coordinate their efforts towards helping Haitians to develop their agricultural sector. So, what factors would stop such a focused and coordinated effort from occurring? That’s the question I’d ask and quite frankly, I’d ask it of the Haitian-American diaspora. They’re best placed after all, to advocate on behalf of Haitians living in Haiti.
Who in the Haitian diaspora is working on agricultural development projects in Haiti? Who in the Haitian diaspora has been lobbying US agencies to implement favorable agricultural trade policies towards Haiti? — What’s stopping the Haitian-American diaspora from multiplying these efforts? Maybe they don’t know agricultural development is what Haitians want so I’ll end with a quick round-up of recent agricultural news.
Apparently the Haitian government wants food aid to stop; something about aid interfering with the natural working of the economy. In a move that pre-dates the earthquake, the Obama administration announced this past Thursday that it is seeking funding to increase agricultural production and encourage good farming practices in developing nations. The budget request hasn’t yet been approved so, heads up diaspora, that’s a bona fide lobbying opportunity. The USA Rice Federation, the industry’s advocacy outfit, explains in an informative article, how it responded to Haitians’ immediate humanitarian needs and defends its decades-long supply of US-grown rice to Haiti.
Finally, here’s a story about Haitian villagers who approached the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) for help restoring the hills and fields of Petit-Goâve. How could the diaspora magnify their efforts?