We All Need Food, Sometimes We Also Need Help

Posted by Amy Schnabel
July 22, 2016
Students eat during lunch time a school, that is aided by the World Food Program, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, September 25, 2006.

Over 1,400 miles separate Washington, DC from Haiti. That distance can translate into a gulf between those working on global food security policy in Washington and those with immediate needs due to hunger and malnutrition on a daily basis in other parts of the world. Globally, 795 million people are food insecure, meaning that they do not have reliable access to an adequate amount of affordable, nutritious food. This June I went to Haiti to work to bridge that gap. Understanding on a personal level the experiences of those who go to bed hungry or cannot feed their families was an eye opening journey to help implement more efficient food security policy and better address the needs of those receiving food assistance. 

During my trip, I joined members of the Food Assistance Convention for a site visit to Haiti to meet with members of food insecure communities and understand how we can better support them through our food assistance programs. The Food Assistance Convention, which is made up  of 14 donor countries, including the United States, works to strengthen international cooperation and coordination to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and quality of food assistance. The group’s visit to Haiti allowed us a close view of various food assistance distribution systems. Food aid is given as direct food contributions, food vouchers, cash-for-assets, and cash-for-work activities.

In Haiti, 2.5 million people out of a population of 10 million live in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 per day, which is just enough to afford six cups of rice or three cans of condensed milk. 

Agriculture accounts for approximately 40 percent of the jobs in Haiti and contributes 25 percent of GDP. However, under-employment in agriculture is very high as most farmers only work part time and productivity is low. As a result, Haiti does not produce enough food to meet its own needs.  The country has suffered through three years of drought and lost half of its crop production due to below-average rainfall last year alone. The bottom line is, Haiti has one of the highest levels of food insecurity in the world, with more than half of its total population undernourished.

A food assistance recipient uses a paper voucher to receive grain at a USAID co-sponsored project. [State Department photo]

This is where food assistance comes in. The United States, which is the largest donor of food assistance worldwide, works with many other countries and the Haitian government to try to make sure food assistance in Haiti is coordinated and reaches the most vulnerable. 

During the visit, we traveled to Sud-Est (South-East) near the Dominican Republic border -- one of the areas currently experiencing a food security crisis so critical, that even with humanitarian assistance, at least one in five households face malnutrition or must sell off what few assets they have to buy food. 

While in Haiti, we also visited an emergency food assistance response by the World Food Program’s (WFP) Emergency Operation. WFP is providing 300,000 people affected by drought with cash transfers for three months to address their immediate food needs.  In contrast, Kore Lavi -- or “lifesaving” in Haitian creole -- is a USAID-funded social safety net program in collaboration with the Government of Haiti that provides 17,025 vulnerable households with food vouchers and aims to improve maternal and child nutrition.  It was good to see that these programs can work together to reduce hunger and malnutrition by using different types of food assistance to address different needs and, through coordination, feed more people without duplicating efforts. 

With the prevalence of environmental disasters and people being uprooted by conflict, the need for food assistance continues to increase and coordination amongst donor countries becomes more necessary, especially with limited resources.  By increasing partnerships with other donors, leveraging relationships with organizations such as the Food Assistance Convention, and allowing flexibility in how we provide food assistance - vouchers, cash payments, etc. -- we can maximize our impact in the fight against hunger.

The best part of the visit was hearing directly from recipients about the value and impact of the programs and what we could do to support them better through food assistance. Conducting these site visits and engaging with the communities allowed us to collect information that we otherwise could have missed; hearing directly from Haitians receiving assistance helps us identify any shortcomings or gaps in our programs.  Food assistance recipients told us there were more affected families that needed help, and that they needed more assistance overall. The fight against hunger cannot be won unless we all work together. Ultimately, collaboration and engagement will bring us one step closer to ending hunger. 

About the Author: Amy Schnabel serves as a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Office of Agricultural Policy in the Department of State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs

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Aamir S.
August 22, 2016
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