U.S. To Ship Peanuts To Feed Malnourished Haitian Kids; Aid Groups Say ‘This Is Wrong’

Sacks full of peanuts are displayed for sale at a market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Aid groups say they are dismayed by a planned influx of American-grown peanuts from a U.S. agricultural surplus that they fear could undercut a vital cash crop in the impoverished Caribbean nation. Dieu Nalio Chery/AP
Sacks full of peanuts are displayed for sale at a market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Aid groups say they are dismayed by a planned influx of American-grown peanuts from a U.S. agricultural surplus that they fear could undercut a vital cash crop in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Dieu Nalio Chery/AP

On paper, sending surplus U.S. peanuts to feed 140,000 malnourished Haitian schoolchildren for a full year sounds like a heroic plan. Instead, it’s united 60 aid groups that are urgently calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to halt a shipment containing 500 metric tons of peanuts, preventing the legumes from reaching Haiti.

The aid groups call it “crop dumping” and warn that it will deliver an economic blow to struggling Haitian peanut farmers. Critics say it’s poor aid policy that will have long-term negative impacts on Haitian communities.

“This is a country where peanut production is a huge source of livelihood for up to a half-million people, especially women, if you include the supply chains that process the peanuts,” says Claire Gilbert, spokesperson for Grassroots International, a Boston-based nonprofit that supports food sovereignty.

How the USDA got stuck with a pile of peanuts stretches back to the 2014 Farm Bill, which included incentives encouraging American farmers to plant more. It worked. In 2015, growers harvested 6.2 billion pounds of peanuts, and that number is expected to go up another 20 to 25 percent this year. But all that extra planting has left the USDA holding the bag, with a hefty peanut surplus.

To unload some of the excess, the agency announced a few weeks ago that it would ship 500 metric tons of packaged, dry-roasted peanuts to schoolchildren in Haiti as part of the “Stocks for Food” program, a joint initiative between the Farm Service Agency, Foreign Agricultural Services and Food and Nutrition Services.

A statement issued from the aid group Partners in Health did not mince words about the announcement: “We believe this is wrong.”

The well-known aid group has been working on health and nutrition issues in Haiti for more than 30 years, including a partnership with Abbott Laboratories to manufacture and distribute a product called Nourimanba used to treat severely malnourished children.

“We’re not talking about big business owners being put at risk by an input of peanuts,” says Dr. Louise Ivers, senior health and policy adviser, Partners in Health. “We’re talking about small, very poor farmers that are very dependent on a single crop. We really believe the dumping, or donation, whatever your perspective, will have negative consequences.”

The nonprofit groups aren’t the only ones less than excited at the potential USDA donation. While the U.S. Agency for International Development declined to comment, a tweet from its Haitian office did not seem to support USDA’s peanut plan.

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SOURCE: NPR The Salt – CLARE LESCHIN-HOAR
Clare Leschin-Hoar is a journalist based in San Diego who covers food policy and sustainability issues.