The politics of “free” peanuts for Haiti

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently decided to send surplus U.S. peanuts to a country where peanuts already sustain many livelihoods, it caused a stir.

Sixty Haitian peanut farmers in Kabay give a “thumbs down” to the planned USDA peanuts shipment.
Sixty Haitian peanut farmers in Kabay give a “thumbs down” to the planned USDA peanuts shipment.

Peanuts represent an important industry in Haiti where 150,000 farmers produce roughly 70,000 metric tons of peanuts each year. A thriving peanut processing sector employs an estimated 500,000 Haitians.

The USDA’s move was meant to supplement existing school feeding programs while dealing with a market surplus in the U.S. But it was planned without consideration of its potential effects.

More than 60 groups, including MCC, signed a letter to the USDA in June opposing the shipment. They were concerned the free peanuts could undermine Haitian producers. Though Haiti is affected by drought, dumping surplus peanuts does not address food insecurity in a sustainable way. Food aid, when needed, should be purchased locally to support the domestic economy. Local purchasing has become a tenet of MCC’s own disaster response programs.

The peanut dumping plan received attention in the media and the USDA has since cancelled a second delivery of peanuts. While the first shipment is still looming, the cancellation of subsequent shipments was met with approval and relief by the many Haitian and international groups who advocate for more friendly policies to Haitian farmers.

Katharine Oswald is a policy analyst and advocacy coordinator for MCC in Haiti. Charissa Zehr is a Legislative Associate in the MCC U.S. Washington Office.