Briefing on Haitian Food Security
Ambassador Deputy Coordinator
OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time, participants are in a listen-only mode. To ask a question during the question-and-answer session, press *1 on your touchtone phone. Today’s conference is recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time. I will now turn the meeting over to Mr. Mark Toner.
Sir, you may begin.
MR. TONER: Thank you, and thank all of you for joining us. Just a brief note before we hand it over to our speakers. As you know the one-year anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake is approaching. This is the first of three conference calls that we’re planning. The other two will be on infrastructure and health, just trying to update all of you in the media on efforts that have been undertaken since last year’s earthquake.
Today’s speakers will be Ambassador Patricia Haslach, who’s the State Department’s deputy coordinator for Diplomacy for Feed the Future. We’ll also have Carleene Dei, the USAID mission director of Haiti, and Jonathan Dworken, who is the deputy director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace. I believe Ambassador Haslach, you’ll lead off, and Carleene, you’ll follow suit, and Jonathan, and then we’ll open up to your questions. So let’s go ahead and hand it over to Ambassador Haslach.
AMBASSADOR HASLACH: Well, great. Thank you very much. And in addition to the one-year anniversary for Haiti, we are seeing a – yet again on the world scene, an increase in food prices. And it was actually the increase in food prices back in ’07 and ’08 that prompted President Obama at the G8 meeting to make a commitment of $3.5 billion over three years to help leverage and align other donors in a commitment to reengage in agriculture. And this is a global movement, and Haiti is one of the countries that is included in this movement.
And I’m – what I’m going to do is just talk very briefly a little bit about the Feed the Future initiative, and then I’m going to leave it to Carleene, the USAID mission director, and to Jonathan to talk specifically about the Haiti components. But I think it’s important that you remember that Haiti is part of an overall U.S. Government program called – now called Feed the Future. We were able, in addition to our commitment, to get other donors to commit $18.5 billion to food security, and we’ve also been part of a trust fund that’s being managed by the World Bank, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program Trust Fund, which has already committed $225 million to five countries in its first round of funding and 97 million in its second round of funding, and Haiti has also been one of the recipients of that program.
It’s important to also put our Feed the Future program in context because it is actually part of the U.S. Government’s strategic and analytical approach to accelerate the progress towards the Millennium Development Goals of sustaining and reducing hunger and poverty. And at the – on the margins of the MDG summit in New York in September, Secretary Clinton, along with Irish Foreign Minister Martin, launched an initiative called 1,000 Days, which is part of our Feed the Future, but the focus on that is actually on the nutrition, and it’s important that we not lose sight of the nutrition, as it is a very important part of our Feed the Future initiative.
Our focus with Feed the Future is investing resources actually in agricultural-led development, and in Haiti’s case this is to improve the food security of the Haitian people over the long term. This is not a short-term program. This is one where we’re trying to really look to the future and commit to the future. Our contribution is actually – I mentioned to a cooperative global effort centered on country-owned processes and plans that implement a common approach to improving food security, ag production and, again, nutrition.
Feed the Future – under our program we’re investing in food security and ag development priorities that are identified by the partner country through something called a country-led investment plan. Countries have different names for it; in Africa, it’s called the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program, CAADP. Every country has a different name, but basically it’s a country plan with regard to agriculture production, agricultural investment. In Feed the Future, we’re focusing on actually creating a foundation for sustainable economic growth, and this is by helping countries like Haiti accelerate inclusive ag sector growth, to improve ag productivity, expanding markets and trade, and increased economic resilience in vulnerable world communities. And again, Haiti is a really good example of what we’re trying to do.
We recognize that food security through isn’t only about food. It’s also closely linked to economic security, environmental security, and human security. So our Feed the Future reflects our tradition and culture of innovation and sustainability by focusing on results and progress that can be sustained over time, concentrating on specific sectors where we have a comparative advantage, including research and private sector growth. And those are two where under Feed the Future we are actually allocating, in addition to funds that will go to the individual Feed the Future countries, we are also going to be supporting regional programs, regional research and have a big focus on private sector-led growth. We are also doing this – we’re calling this whole of government, but basically what this means is all of the U.S. Government agencies that have some piece of food and agriculture included, and this is Department of Agriculture, the Foreign – under that, the Foreign Agriculture Service as well as the Ag Research Service and others, and then the Peace Corps., there’s the U.S. Department of Treasury, our U.S. Trade Representatives Office, the Millennium Challenge Corporation – that one is very important, because what we’re trying to do is leverage some of their investments in the larger infrastructure projects in agriculture to support some of our programs in Feed the Future.
It’s also important to know that we’re really focusing on women; they are the key agriculture producers in many of the countries where we are focusing our attention, and they are critical actors in our view for creating a food secure world. And again, we’re also ensuring that our efforts lead to climate resilience and that they are environmentally sustainable, and Carleene can address a little bit of why we’ve chosen certain corridors in Haiti. A lot of it is actually looking at the environmental and the climate change sides of this.
This is – I think we have not been focusing on – we’re acknowledging now that we have not focused enough attention on food security, on agriculture. It’s not just the United States; it’s the other donors as well. The Green Revolution occurred more than 50 years ago, and we realize, at least on the research side, we really need to reenergize our focus on agriculture if we’re going to be able to feed what’s going to be estimated as over nine billion people by the year 2050.
So I think what’s important, again, to emphasize it’s country-owned, it’s a country-led process, it’s a country-led strategy, and in designing these programs our USAID missions take the lead on the ground working with the governments. The governments are supposed to be consulting with nongovernmental organizations, civil society, and again, the private sector. This cannot be done just by the governments alone, so part of their country-led investment plan actually calls for working with other stakeholders.
It also calls for not just the Ministry of Agriculture. It means that all of the ministries similar to our approach, this whole-of-government approach, should be included and the consultative process, should be included in the implementation of the program, or it will not work. And finally, I think something that’s a little bit unique and maybe not so unique – we started this with our DMCC – is we are really focusing on measuring the impact, and we are putting a lot of resources and human resources into results framework and monitoring and evaluation. This is key. This is what Congress is demanding from us. This is what our U.S. citizens are demanding from us. So this is a very, very, very important component of our program. So with that, I think I’ll turn the specifics over to Carleene and Jonathan. Thank you.
Carleene, are you there?
MS. DEI: I thought I was going to be introduced, but –
AMBASSADOR HASLACH: Oh, okay.
MS. DEI: -- if you want me to jump –
AMBASSADOR HASLACH: Oh, I don’t know. Are you being introduced?
MR. TONER: Sorry, Carleene. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
MS. DEI: That’s no problem. I’m Carleene Dei, and I’m the mission director here in Haiti, and I think the ambassador has pretty much summed up our philosophy here in Haiti. The – we have – we’re working on a comprehensive new strategy just prior to the earthquake, and naturally, when the earthquake took place we had to realign much of the – many of the programs that we had been planning to reflect this. But interestingly enough, I think food security is one of the areas where we did not have as much work to do, simply because we have been more or less on the right track prior to the earthquake, and what we did following the earthquake was take the additional resources that became available to us through the supplemental and through Feed the Future to expand our program.
The program was developed in very, very close coordination with the Government of Haiti, specifically the Department of Agriculture, which had developed a Country Investment Plan; the ambassador has just referred to that. And we and ten other major donors bought into it. It’s all about sustainability. There is no point in doing a project that when you leave the project collapses. And we have had a lot of experience and developed a lot of models that have taught us how to make projects sustainable.
I think the key ingredient is the massive participation of the farmers and of the local government so that people take ownership for what you’re doing, see how they can make a profit, and continue it after you’ve withdrawn your particular set of resources or have reduced them. The strategy is focused on three regional corridors – one in the north in Cap Haitien; one in the cul-de-sac region, which are the plains just surrounding Haiti Port-au-Prince proper, the capital; and the third is in Saint Marc. That’s a region that’s usually not buffeted by the annual hurricanes, and in Haiti that’s unusual. And so it means that the probability of disruption from the usual natural catastrophes is minimized.
Of course, as I said, the program is fully aligned with that of the Haitian Government, and in the near term, we have had some very, very positive results. Because most of our agricultural programs were not in the zone that was affected by the earthquake, we were able to continue and to ramp up our activities. And the first harvest following the earthquake we had higher yields, and the more recent harvest that took place about a couple of months ago, we found that we had increased the yield on the various farms in the three different areas by 75 percent overall, including a 139 percent increase in sorghum and a 118 percent increase in corn. And we’ve been doing some rice trials, finding that when we plant the same variety of the plant in a different manner than the traditional one, we’re able to get 150 to 190 percent higher increase.
The increases were possible – and just simply put – because of all the work we’ve done in environmental management. Haiti has massive environmental degradation. I don’t need to tell you that; if you fly over it, you can see it. And much of the work that we’ve been doing and will continue to do is devoted to arresting or correcting this. Get the greenery back on the mountainsides, tell the farmers how to plant to protect the mountains and the watersheds from further degradation, increase yield, come up with better ways of marketing what it is that you’re doing, and just strengthen the market so that more money ends up in the hands of farmers and their contribution to the GDP, which is now somewhere in the range of 20 percent, can increase to reflect the fact that over 60 percent of the population is involved in agricultural production. I think I’ll leave it at that.
MR. TONER: Very good. Thank you, Carleene.
And, Jonathan, I don’t know if you want to add some insights.
MR. DWORKEN: Thanks. I’ll give a very brief overview of how our emergency food aid evolved over time, because I think that USAID’s emergency food aid response to the Haitian earthquake was not just fast and flexible, but really reflects the way we’re increasing our capabilities and respond to these types of disasters. After the earthquake, we worked quickly to scale up food aid distributions – initially to three million and eventually four million people affected by the earthquake – by diverting food aid that was already on the ground for ongoing programs, dispatching food aid commodities from USAID’s prepositioning stocks in Texas, and actually purchasing U.S. commercial rice that was already in Haiti, and so we can make that available for distributions.
But then as the situation stabilized and our assistance evolved to respond to the changing needs in the environment, first, we transitioned from blanket food distributions to more target assistance, focusing, for example, on children under five, pregnant women and schoolchildren. And then as food became available in the markets, we provided food vouchers and actually instituted cash-for-work programs. The – what’s underlying this approach is that by undertaking these programs, we’re able to not just help Haitian families meet their food needs, but also support the recovery of local markets. And I’ll leave it at that.
MR. TONER: Thanks very much, Jonathan. I believe we’re ready now to move into the Q&A period. I just would ask that, before we do that, if you just could state your name and your media affiliation before you ask a question. Thank you. And a reminder also that this is all on the record. Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, we will begin a question-and-answer session. To ask a question, please press *1 on your touchtone phone, please un-mute the line, and record your first and last name. To withdraw the question, press *2. Once again, press *1 to ask a question.
First question I have populated. I’ll just take a moment to listen to the name. Pascal Fletcher of Reuters, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning and thank you for taking my call. I’d like to ask a sort of – it’s a related but a slightly wider question. As we approach the anniversary, it’s raining story pitches in newsrooms and we’re hearing a lot of statistics being reeled off. But you’ve probably also seen some comments from on-the-ground humanitarian actors like MSF and Oxfam in which they’re very critical of the international humanitarian response to Haiti over the last year – I mean, from MSF talking about where aid failed and a damning indictment of the international aid system, and Oxfam talking about a quagmire of indecision and delay.
So if I may ask you, as also major players in the international operation, has aid, the international aid operation, failed Haiti over the last year? Is it – or is it just a question of perception? Has enough been done in terms of not just food security, but rubber removal, housing, resettlement? Isn’t it perhaps that – why hasn’t such a large, huge international aid operation not been able to do and achieve more on the ground over the year? I’d really be interested in hearing perhaps Ms. Dei’s response to that and maybe even Ambassador Haslach too if you’d be willing.
AMBASSADOR HASLACH: I’m going to let Carleene – since she’s on the ground, actually, and she’s working on all the programs, not just the food programs.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. DEI: I think it’s a question of perception. I really do. And in fact, I think it’s a problem of misperception. We have spent a lot of money, as you know, and I think most of the statistics that you see indicate the level, the intensity of our emergency response to what everyone acknowledges has been the largest urban disaster ever in a country that started off at the bottom of the pile in every possible statistic, whether it be health, education, agriculture, infrastructure. You name it, Haiti is at the bottom of the list.
And so the combination of the magnitude of the disaster and the poverty of the country took the country back to a level that is probably unimaginable. And the thought of it – the services, the arrangements, the institutions that would normally jump in and address a disaster of that magnitude simply weren’t available to Haiti. So when we say we think we did very, very well in our emergency response, we’re not exaggerating. We’re stating a fact.
Another of the major issues is a lack of understanding of the flow of money. Most people – the donors all made pledges back in March, but a pledge is not a check. A pledge has to be turned into legislation. Legislation has to be turned into plans. Plans have to be vetted and approved. And money has to be made available. That supplemental money that everybody talks about, which is really the outcome of the pledge, is only just becoming available. And we cannot spend that money until we have plans for programs that we think are sustainable. That’s the bottom line. We cannot throw money at the problem. We have been planning and we have been doing very, very specific programmation – that’s why I talked to you about strategy – and procurement to make this happen.
As I said, for the programs that were not disrupted, as in agriculture, we already have solid results on the ground. Same thing for health; very solid results. The work that we have done pre-earthquake was what allowed us to jump into the camps and to prevent major epidemics, cholera being the exception and cholera not having been produced by the earthquake. So I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mr. Edward Stannard, New Haven Register. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ms. Dei, I would like to follow up when you were talking about money that had been pledged and not delivered. Apparently, the United States pledge of many millions of dollars did not arrive in Haiti. I’m not sure it’s arrived yet. Can you tell me whether it has and what you think about those kinds of delays that a country like the United States pledges large amounts of money and then it’s help up because of political issues or other reasons? And can you compare the life of the average Haitian now compared to just after the earthquake? Is it substantially better? I mean –
AMBASSADOR HASLACH: Just before Carleene answers, I think it would be helpful if Jonathan, you also chimed in, because you need to differentiate between the immediate humanitarian response and the longer-term development assistance programs that have been planned. So I think it would be helpful to differentiate between those as well.
MR. DWORKEN: Thanks very much. Let me assure you that all of the funds that we spoke about with regard to humanitarian assistance have been forthcoming. In fact, the way with regard to humanitarian assistance is there are contingency accounts in the U.S. Government. That money is spent right away when it’s needed, and then the supplemental reimburses the accounts. So for example, my office, the Office of Food For Peace, has provided over $188 million in food assistance, both in-kind food aid and cash for work and vouchers. And in fact, all of that money has been spent.
I’ll let Ms. Dei address the development accounts. That is more complex.
OPERATOR: Once again --
OPERATOR: Go ahead. Go ahead, sir.
MS. DEI: Let me just add to that. That was essentially what I said in my first response, that there is a difference between the emergency response money, which is – to date is well over a billion dollars, and the recovery money, which is the money that was promised in March. Legislation passed in the summer, June and July, programming submitted and approved by Congress. And it’s in our hands at this point in time and we are contracting for it. There is no political opposition, there is no other agenda. This is how money, taxpayer money, is given to us – through legislation, through vetting the planning, and through making it available. And all the other donors are going through more or less the same process.
We have already delivered $125 million directly to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund. We have our ongoing programs that we spend. In agriculture, which is the topic of this conversation, we spent in 2010 $42.8 million on our ongoing agricultural programs. We plan and we will spend the supplemental money this year and next year.
QUESTION: Can you respond to the question about the – how Haitians’ lives have improved or not in the – over the year in terms of food security and other things such as housing?
MS. DEI: Well, of course it’s kind of difficult to give you a global overall answer. But from our point of view, there have been some improvements. For example, access to healthcare. One of the reasons that we’ve been able to get on top of the cholera epidemic fairly rapidly is the fact that in all of the camps that we’ve set up, we have provided clean water, chlorinated water, sanitation, and health units. When the cholera epidemic took place, one of the things we did immediately was to put up cholera treatment centers next to the health units. We just got a statistic in this week. Eighty-five percent of the people who use the health centers and camps are not living in the camps; they’re living in the neighborhoods surrounding the camps. And because, as I told you, Haiti had very, very poor health services prior to the earthquake, despite the fact that we had actually improved service delivery to cover about half of the country, many of the people who didn’t have those services now go into the camps to get services – to use the toilets, to get clean water, to use health care, and sometimes to send their kids to the public schools there. Now, I mean, this is not a pretty picture, I admit. But I think it reflects what we have been able to do and the effectiveness of it.
MR. ANDERSON: This is Lars Andersen from USAID. If I could just remind everyone who called that there going to be other calls in the week on various issues, but if we could just focus on food security and agriculture for this call, thank you.
AMBASSADOR HASLACH: Yeah, and if I could also just point out that Haiti also has received 35 million under the Global Agriculture and Food Security Trust Fund that’s being managed by the World Bank. The U.S. is a contributor, along with Canada and a number of other countries. And the goal of that program, again, is actually to raise the productivity of small-holder farmers, especially women, by improving their access to private ag services, inputs for crop reduction, et cetera. And that money is actually very, very soon to be released to the Government of Haiti. So that’s an additional 35 million.
OPERATOR: Once again, if you’d like to ask a question, press *1. Ms. Jill Dougherty of CNN, your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. There were a lot of statistics, but I just wanted to see if we can get a little overall picture, and maybe you said it, but I missed it. The percentage of people who are now living on food aid, as opposed to the people can actually sustain themselves – do you have any statistics on that?
MR. DWORKEN*: We can try to get back to you on that. We don’t have those statistics on distributions going on right now.
MR. TONER: Yeah, you can – Mark here.
MR. TONER: Jill – I’ll get you – just when – if we can get those statistics, I’ll relay them to you, Jill.
QUESTION: All right. And also, maybe another question would be: Are there people who are actually starving or at the brink, not able to get food at this point in Haiti?
MS. DEI: Yeah, our role on this and – is – we identify and target vulnerable populations. And vulnerable populations, for the most part, consist of people – women who are pregnant, women who are lactating, children under five, where you have – you will have problems in terms of development, mental and physical, if children remain chronically malnourished. So for the most part, we target our food aid while balancing to make sure that the negative impact on the farmers who are helping to produce more food is minimized. And we do this by nonstop monitoring.
QUESTION: Okay. So does that mean that there are people who may be outside of a safety net? I’m not quite sure I follow.
MS. DEI: No, the food distribution is not strictly limited to camps or to Port-au-Prince. The food programs are all over the country. And we know which parts of the country have the worst situation, vis-à-vis food availability, either because productions, crop yield levels, have gone down or just it’s an area that’s not so fertile or an area that is frequently met with disasters. And that’s where the food programs are concentrated. That’s the nature of food aid.
OPERATOR: I have another question. Ezra Fieser, your line is open – from the Global Post Media.
AMBASSADOR HASLACH: I’m going to have to sign off at 11:30, and so unless this question is for me, I’ll be signing off.
OPERATOR: Ezra, your line is open. Please check the mute switch.
QUESTION: Hi. The question is related to agriculture, and specifically about what’s being done to improve access to market and infrastructure in rural Haiti. And some of the farmers I’ve spoken with say that – identified that as one of the biggest problems, getting actually their products to market.
And related to that, what are the plans in terms of decentralization of services as you ramp up the agriculture production in rural Haiti?
AMBASSADOR HASLACH: Okay, I’m going to let Carleene answer that. And thank you very much. And if you have any specific questions with regard to Feed the Future, you can just channel them through our offices here. Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thank you, Ambassador.
MS. DEI: Yes, I totally agree with you that the issue of producing goods and getting them to market in a form that people will buy them is critical. Loss is sometimes -- averages high, between 30 to 50 percent, depending on where they’re coming from. And so a significant piece of our program is rural roads, feeder roads – leveling them, making them more accessible, and linking them up with the major highways.
We do not invest in large highways. That is usually the World Bank, the European Union, and the Inter-American Bank. In other words, the multilateral donors specialize in the large-scale infrastructure. But since we work closer to the community level, we put a lot of money either through cash-for-work or simply by contracting them to building roads and to also improving irrigation, which is part of it, because with lack of irrigation you sometimes get more flooding.
We also have mango post-harvest centers, which is where you go and the mangos are treated and are packaged and are shipped out, and we’re doing that with any of the other cash crops that we will be promoting, which include cocoa and also coffee and avocado.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on the idea of decentralization. I know it was talked about a lot after – in the months after the earthquake, but decentralizing services, is that that part of the plan as well, or to push for decentralization of services as you ramp up the agricultural production in the countryside?
MS. DEI: I think as we mentioned before, we feature working with communities and with municipalities. This is particularly true if you’re going to have an effective environmental management program. People have to be convinced to plant a certain way, to not cut down trees to make charcoal. And it’s done by strengthening the ability of the local governments and also of the regional service delivery centers; in this case, the outposts of the Department of Agriculture. But decentralization, of course, is going to require the total buy-in and the support of the national government, and they are on record as stating that decentralization and strengthening the regional capitals or the services that are located at the regional and local level is part of their program. And we are supporting this.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Mark here. Sorry to interrupt. I think we have time for just a couple more questions. I know there’s actually back-to-back briefings on another issue, the Secretary’s trip, so I know some of the reporters who are on this call may want to jump on that. So if we can just do two to three more questions, that would be terrific.
OPERATOR: Mr. Fieser, are you finished with your question?
QUESTION: Yes, thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Ingrid Arneson, Wall Street Journal, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’ve got a question regarding the private sector, the Haitian private sector, and how it is working, contributing to the effort to bring agriculture back up on the map in Haiti. And if you can gauge it and how it’s being structured into these plans.
MS DEI: Well, I’m not quite sure of the question. Are you asking, is the private sector investing in agriculture, are they participating? The answer is yes. When we’re talking about mango production and the like, these are small and large actors involved, the farmers being the small actors, the people who are doing the processing and the sales, those are the larger actors. And sector development is not just agriculture; it’s kind of across the board. We’re promoting that in any way we possibly can.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Once again, you may press *1 to ask a question.
MR. ANDERSON: Okay, well, this is Lars Anderson from USAID. If there are no more questions, thank you, everyone, for participating. And keep in mind that we’ll be having two more calls on Monday, one on infrastructure and one on health. Those times are noon for infrastructure and 1 o'clock eastern for health on Monday. So thank you very much. Have a good day.
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