Lessons From A Crisis

The inhabitants of the slums of Port-au-Prince and other Haitian towns take to the streets to protest the price of food. The protests are of such caliber that have achieved what before had only achieved the military revolts: forcing the resignation of a Prime Minister. Many writers such as Jimmy Carter offer more in-depth analysis. International public opinion calls for measures to protect Haiti and many other poor countries of an impending food crisis, and initiatives occur to accelerate the provision of food and meet the emergency. They are indispensable and urgent action, but they should not hide the debate about the causes of this situation. What lessons can we learn from this crisis to not make the same mistakes in the future? Lesson number one: don’t produce food if you’re not able to purchase them from others. Haiti, for example, today faces a structural shortage of rice, but only 20 years ago their peasants were able to produce all the rice consumed the nation’s population at a reasonable price. What is it twisted? In 1995, the IMF and the World Bank suggested the implementation of a plan of rapid trade liberalization.

And when they say quick refer exactly to that: in a few months the import tariffs plunged 50% to 3%, which opened the door to a flood of subsidized rice from the United States. Local prices decreased slightly, but in a few years the national production collapsed, leaving the country in the hands of the foreign market. Today Haiti imports 80% of the rice consumed and prices have multiplied by two. This case is a template for the way in which international agricultural markets have operated during the past 30 years: unilateral liberalization for the poorest countries, massive export of products subsidized by rich countries and a rural sector abandoned by international donors and local governments. For countries that do not have foreign exchange to buy on international markets, the food dependency is absolute.