A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Even before the devastating January 2010 earthquake, Haiti was one of the poorest and most food-insecure countries on earth. A majority of Haitians live in rural areas and depend on agricultural livelihoods, but neither the government nor the international community has paid sufficient attention to agriculture, leaving the countryside increasingly marginalized. Too often, decision-making forums have excluded the voices of poor rural Haitians. Trade liberalization has exposed Haitian farmers to competition from subsidized US rice exports and made consumers vulnerable to volatile global food prices.
The immediate humanitarian response to the earthquake had a degree of bias towards external food aid, although some donors emphasized local procurement from Haitian farmers. Massive distribution of seeds, tools, and fertilizers in the earthquake zone and to those hosting displaced people bolstered prospects for 2010 harvests, although donors did not provide enough resources to assist all targeted households.
Given the importance of agriculture in the lives of most Haitians, it must have a central place in post-earthquake reconstruction. Policies and programs need to emphasize improving small-scale farmers’ access to resources and services, so as to boost their incomes and productivity, particularly with regard to staple food crops. Urgent attention is also needed to reversing severe natural resource degradation. Policies and programmes must take the gender division of labour in agriculture into account.