It is an absolute given that USAID is helpful. They have done and are doing wonderful things helping farmers the world over improve their crop management skills and farm output. They spend a great deal of money financing agronomists to help farmers ensure their plantations are working at peak capacity.
What they don’t tell you is that their hands are tied by a little known law signed in 1986. Called the Bumpers’ Amendment, this law is mentioned several times on their website, but never actually defined in any way. It is important because it determines most specifically how USAID funds are allowed to be spent, or more specifically, how they are NOT allowed to be spent.
The amendment stipulates that “none of the funds to be appropriated … may be available for any testing or breeding, feasibility study, variety improvement or introduction, consultancy, publication, or training in connection with the growth or production in a foreign country for export if such export would compete in world markets with a similar commodity grown or produced in the United States.”
In more common terms, what this means, is that Farmers who grow crops that compete in world markets with American crops CANNOT receive funding from USAID.
Clear enough? Here are even simpler terms.
Americans sell rice, soybeans and sugar into the Haitian markets. Although these three food staples (among others) are able to be grown on Haitian soil and are the key to Haitian food security, if a farmer plants either of them, they will more than likely be cut off from USAID aid, so they do not, nay will not grow them. No Haitian farmer is willing to cut off their nose to spite their face in the hopes that maybe they might survive without the help of USAID.
But, how does USAID help Haiti get sovereign and self-sufficient as it pertains to food security? Well, technically it doesn’t. What it does do is turn Haiti into a Nation even further beholden to the US for its food staples, and unable to feed itself, even if it does manage to create farms and farms the nation over who are capable of growing export crops. Perpetuating the wrong that was done to this nations’ farmers when the tariffs on rice and other foodstuffs was reduced from 30% (which protected the Haitian growers and is standard in most first world countries), to 3% by the Clinton Administration, simply hamstrings the farmers.
A glowing example of changing the economic status of a country through USAID programs is the history of Malawi. USAID has been working in Malawi since the 1960’s. They have taken a nation in abject poverty and turned it into a nation where the average income is still less than $1 per day, but whose economy is indeed growing, but how long should it take? 50 years on, USAID continues to provide approximately $100 million per year in food aid to Malawi. Sadly, what Malawi shows us is that USAID is willing to contribute to a nation’s food security over a long period of time, so long as the recipients do not compete with the US export markets. We’d rather it not be 50 years on before Haiti begins to see progression on the food security front.
Most recently, we have seen in the news the affect that the Bumpers’ Amendment can have on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. A USAID project was supposed to replace poppy growing for the opium trade with cotton fields. The Bumpers Amendment kicked into gear and caused the project to be rejected for funding because the cotton would compete with the US market. So much for the cotton for poppies idea.
The problem that the Bumpers Amendment raises for Haitian farmers is that it creates a high probability that Haitian farmers who plant soy, sugar or rice and possibly corn, coconut or palm for use as oil, will not be eligible for funding. The aid promised to Haitians for the reconstruction will not be forthcoming. Worse, in the event that emergency support is required, the Haitian farmers would again not be eligible because they compete with US farmers.
For more on the topic, we invite you to click here to read the report: Feeding Dependency, Starving Democracy: USAID Policies in Haiti, From Grassroots International, 6 March 1997 we believe it is entirely relevant today.
Author’s note: USAID has been asked repeatedly about the Bumper’s Amendment and has as yet refused any response to inquiries.