2,100 Metric Tons of Rice a Week, Exported from the U.S. to Haiti

26 Nov 1996

On November 21, Reuters reported USDA figures of 2,100 metric tons of rice exported to Haiti. That figure covers one week.

The Artibonite Valley in Haiti is some of the best rice-growing land in the world, but it is still cultivated with age-old methods and unimproved strains of rice. Fertilizer is so expensive by comparison with the average income of a Haitian rice farmer that many can not afford it. Mechanized cultivation with tractors is likewise beyond their means.

Haitian coffee farmers in the northwest of Haiti who tried to form cooperatives were branded 'communist' and persecuted under the military regime - hundreds of homes were burned in the area around Borgne. If rice farmers in the Artibonite were to try to form cooperatives, it is safe to assume that even today they would run into some stiff resistance, especially since the Artibonite is a traditional Macoute stronghold.

When a Haitian small businesswoman or merchant goes to buy her rice wholesale, a sack of 'Miami rice' is always one dollar (actually five gourdes, one Haitian 'dollar', which is not a real unit of currency) less than the price of a sack of locally produced rice. It doesn't matter what the actual prices are, the price differential is always there, and always in favor of the imported product.

It would seem logical for the Haitian government to impose a duty on imported rice amounting to five gourdes per sack, to bring the domestic rice into competitive equality with imported rice. Then the money raised by the duty could be used to subsidize Haitian rice, making it available at a lower price while simultaneously offering the rice farmers a better deal. Furthermore, the money raised with this duty could be used to improve rice cultivation methods.

Someone wrote: Haiti theoretically imposes a total of approximately 7% charges on imported rice, but smugglers get product into the country without paying anything, hurting local farmers and rice processors who must import raw material. (Haiti is not yet self-sufficient.) Until and unless Caribbean governments are able to control smuggling and efficiently administer subsidies of the type you suggest, the charges will serve only to discourage honest operators.

Corbett adds: For those on this group not as familiar with Haiti as others, I would point out that the word "smuggling" in this context does not mean to "sneak" things into the country avoiding duties.

Rather, it is quite open. Huge ships pull up to the dock, and an open unloading goes on. It's just that those behind the unloading are powerful persons, often military people, and they just ignore the duties. Thus while it certainly is "smuggling," it doesn't meet the normal image of that term.


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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu