Josh Berkman

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Sustainable Action. An Interactive Map of NGOs in Haiti. – Weekly Link Roundup

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Free Market and Food Security. Food Aid in Niger. Blame Game in Haiti. – Weekly Link Roundup

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Empowering Haitians

Unless Haitian farmers and other small business-owners have the opportunity to generate revenue and create jobs, the recovery from last January’s catastrophic earthquake will continue to flounder.

The Haiti Empowerment, Assistance and Rebuilding (HEAR) Act, sponsored in the Senate by John Kerry (D-MA) and Bob Corker (R-TN), will help ensure that America’s aid to Haiti empowers Haitians to develop their economy on their terms. The HEAR Act clearly articulates priorities for future multi-billion dollar appropriations committed in U.S. aid to Haiti and emphasizes local procurement. John Conyers (D-MI) is expected to introduce a House companion to the HEAR Act, which will have almost identical language.

You can tell your congress people to pass this important legislation without delay by signing this petition.

Before the earthquake even happened, 80 percent of the Haitian population was living on less than two dollars per day. In fact, a post-earthquake study by Oxfam found that finding employment is the single greatest concern among Haitians.  Across Haiti, communities are organizing to advocate for better services and for protection of their land and water rights. Progress on these fronts—as well as local procurement and trade policies that would level the playing field between Haitian farmers and multi-national corporations—would dramatically improve the environment for job creation.

The good news is there are other encouraging signs Capitol Hill is making moves to embrace grassroots development. The Congressional Black Caucus held a hearing supported by the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) to discuss how Haitian civil society can play a greater role in reconstruction planning and urge Congress to actively solicit input from grassroots organizations that can bring a nuanced perspective to the table. This was the first congressional hearing to feature substantial involvement of Haitian civil society.

Paul Farmer of Partners in Health knocked the cover off the ball, calling for jobs generated among impacted populations to be part of any formal evaluation of a project’s success. Dr. Farmer also offered some perspective on the feeble relationship between the Haitian government and donor nations, which have historically dismissed the government as a partner. These same donors have also been quick to throw the Haitian government under the bus as of late. From the Boston Globereport:

“Our historical failure to do so is one of the primary reasons that trying to help the public sector now is like trying to transfuse whole blood through a small-gauge needle or, in popular parlance, to drink from a fire hose,” Farmer, a UN deputy special envoy for Haiti, said on Capitol Hill.

“How can there be public health and public education without a stronger government at the national and local levels?”

And later yesterday, the house passed a $918M supplemental funding package for Haiti as part of the mammoth H.R. 4899 Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2010, which also includes increased funding for the war in Afghanistan. Language emphasizing local procurement would have made the bill much better, but politics got in the way—of course.

While there are these encouraging signs for Haiti, we still need to keep the pressure on Congress to make sure America’s aid benefits the Haitian people first and foremost.

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Does Bill Clinton Really Want to Help Haiti for the Long-Term?

Bill Clinton was back in Haiti last week, echoing a major concern of many in the international development community that the upcoming hurricane season poses a huge threat to the country. In addition to nearly a million people living in fragile temporary shelters in the large cities, the agricultural infrastructure in rural areas — already severely damaged — could be completely blown out by even a minor hurricane. He again spoke of his concern that Haiti’s population remains dependent on foreign aid. He has pledged $2 million from his foundation, half for disaster preparedness and the other half to the Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC).

If Clinton really is serious about weaning Haiti off international aid, he should think hard about insisting that this money be directed to local groups such as Lambi Fund, which helps strengthen Haiti’s capacity to produce food for itself through initiatives like seed banks.

Furthermore, he should insist that community leaders be invited to participate in IHRC decision-making. As we recently pointed out, Haitians and local NGOs need more of a say in matters where they have both unrivaled expertise and a major stake in the outcome. The truth is that $2 million, while helpful, is a drop in the bucket compared to the $2.8 billion we are expecting congress to soon appropriate for Haiti’s reconstruction.

You can help by contacting your representative through this simple form, asking them to ensure that there is language in the bill

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How Obama’s $2.8B To Haiti Can Be Harmful

A supplemental bill that includes the $2.8 billion in emergency funding to Haiti is expected to hold a House committee mark-up this week. But mere allocation of this money for Haiti is not enough – how the money actually gets used is of paramount importance.

To ensure U.S. aid to Haiti benefits Haitian farmers rather than international agribusiness, Congress must include language in the bill that make certain this money will be used to support community-based food production and procurement, cash vouchers and other programs that support local reconstruction efforts. American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is calling on Congress to include this language. You can help by contacting your representative through this form. Read More »

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Weighing in on the Food Production Debate

Over the last week, an important discussion has emerged in the blogosphere about the best ways for hungry nations to produce food. The debate began with a piece by Wellesley professor Robert Paarlberg, published in Foreign Affairs. Paarlberg argues that sluggish food production—rather than price explosion—is responsible for food insecurity in the Global South and that the only way to produce enough food is through advanced technology, increased chemical use and genetically modified seeds. He marginalizes organic farming as quaint and unrealistic as a solution. It’s time to stop rejecting biotech and industrial food production, Paarlberg claims, and realize that it is the only way forward.

A few days later, FP posted a rebuttal piece by Anna Lappe arguing that Paarlberg misrepresents organic farming and its demonstrated potential to produce large amounts of food on small parcels in the developing world. Sustainable agriculture is far more scientifically intensive than what Paarlberg gives it credit for, Lappe says, and much better for the environment to boot. Lappe also cites numerous studies concluding that low impact farming requires less water, doesn’t cause pollution or degrade land and it doesn’t leave peasant farmers dependent on large multinational corporations for materials.

So where does AJWS fall in this debate? Somewhere in between, but a bit closer to Lappe’s point of view. We believe that, first and foremost, it is critical that food be produced locally. When poor communities are reliant on shipments of industrial-produced, what happens when wars, weather, corruption and oil price spikes disrupt the flow? So the question is how best to produce enough food on local farms. Again, the answer lies in the middle. We know that organic farming is gentle on the land and sustainable. When communities are given access to the right resources, we’ve seen phenomenal results with our grantees. But our grantees’ experience also indicates that to achieve these results, there is a role for the proper use of technology and certain inputs. AJWS’s director of advocacy, Timi Gerson, expands on our position in a piece that was posted today at Civil Eats, and she asks for all of us to push for food aid programs that emphasize and enable local production. Check it out!

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