It’s a classic case of good intentions gone bad. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is planning to dump 500 metric tons of packaged, dry-roasted peanuts on Haiti as part of its “Stocks for Food” program, which transfers surplus farm commodities acquired by the government through domestic farm subsidies.

Thanks to the Farm Bill, the US is sitting on 16,000 metric tons of peanuts as American growers forfeited their crop, rather than pay federal loans that are used to finance production and storage costs. 

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The USDA is trying to put these peanuts to good use, hoping that shipping them to Haiti will feed 140,000 malnourished school children. Indeed, Haiti is one of the most food-insecure places on earth, with one in every four Haitian preschool children being stunted by chronic malnutrition. And yet civil society groups and farmer organizations in Haiti and the US are sounding the alarm: dumping these peanuts in Haiti does not present a lasting solution to feeding school children and could even do some serious damage to the country’s growing peanut crop.

The USDA has not done any market analysis in Haiti to ensure that this project does not interfere with local markets and does not reduce the opportunities for Haitian peanut farmers to sell their crop. Nor is the effort explicitly tied to a long-term strategy to create a sustainable school-feeding program in Haiti. While the 2014 Farm Bill included a local and regional procurement program that could be used to build sustainable farm to school linkages that would allow for peanuts to be purchased locally for use in school feeding programs, Congress has routinely underfunded this program. In FY16, only $5 million was allocated, less than one percent of in-kind food aid.

A majority of Haitians live in rural areas and depend on agricultural livelihoods. Agriculture is at the core of Haiti’s economy, communities and culture.  An overwhelming majority of the poorest Haitians – 75 percent – are employed in agriculture.  So wouldn’t procuring food for school meals from Haitian farmers be a better way to help hungry children and also help their parents grow their income and be better providers for their families?

Peanuts are an important crop in Haiti, not only because it’s an important source of protein, but also a very promising cash crop. And while the peanut sector in the country is still small, there’s a lot of opportunity for growth. In fact, the US Government is investing in peanut production in Haiti through Feed the Future Initiative and USAID. Other organizations, including the Clinton Foundation and Partners in Health, are also putting in a lot of effort to strengthen Haiti’s peanut sector.

Which is precisely why dumping 500 metric tons of peanuts in Haiti raised alarm among civil society groups. Especially since the country is still recovering from the decimation of its agricultural sector thanks to US efforts to find new markets for its rice.

If the USDA continues to stockpile peanuts, it will undoubtedly look for ways to dispose of them, in Haiti or elsewhere. And that’s why we have to think it through.

In the mid-1990s, the Haitian government acceded to pressure from the United States and others to drop its tariff on imported rice to nearly zero, leading to a flood of foreign rice into the Haitian market, mostly from the US. Haitian rice production plummeted. In 1980, Haiti was self-sufficient, but today, Haiti imports 80% of its rice, and 60% of its overall food supply.

Bill ClintonBill ClintonTop Oversight Dem pushes back on Uranium One probe Bill Clinton hits Trump, tax reform plan in Georgetown speech The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE, who as President encouraged this trade liberalization in Haiti, recently acknowledged this as a mistake:

“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake…. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did.”

Peanuts can be crucial for hungry kids, no doubt about it. Medika Mamba, which is Creole for "peanut butter medicine," is full of protein with a little bit of milk powder, oil, sugar and all the vitamins and minerals a growing child needs. It can help a malnourished child catch up quickly. But a seemingly well intended gesture to feed hungry kids in Haiti with American peanuts today, could open the floodgates for devastating consequences for their parents ability to feed them in the future. And that’s not peanuts.


Raymond C. Offenheiser is the president of Oxfam America.