Haiti could produce more to aid recovery - The Packer

Haiti could produce more to aid recovery

02/19/2010 08:48:14 AM
Larry Waterfield

Haiti is the basket case of the Western Hemisphere, but that doesn’t mean the country is hopeless.

Larry Waterfield

To a lot of people it seems that way. Still, when you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up.

The economic mainstay is agriculture, which has been in decline. The earthquake, which devastated the main cities, left the countryside intact.

Even as people struggled to find water, medical care, and to just survive, fresh produce began to appear on the streets and amid the ruins: pineapples, bananas, vegetables.

Vendors were selling to anyone with cash to pay.

There is a little sign of hope in that. Any old hope will do. Agriculture accounts for the bulk of Haiti’s employment, about 25% of its national income, much of its meager exports, and a bulwark against total disaster.

The bad news is that agriculture is a mess: Deforestation has ruined the land and swept away top soil. Irrigation systems have declined. Subsistence farming on tiny plots means Haiti cannot feed itself.

There is little credit, few inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides, and productivity is low. Many leave the land to swell the cities such as Port au Prince, which cannot support them. The earthquake caused an exodus back to the land and villages.

The cash crops that accounted for exports, such as coffee, cocoa and sugar, have been on the decline. On top of that no one wants to put private investment money into Haiti. The country has a bad business climate and ranks high on the corruption list.

Haiti does export some fresh fruit, particularly mangoes, along with spices and some other cash crops. Still, it has a big trade deficit.

The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere has little to sell, a ravaged countryside, no credit, no investment hope, an 80% poverty rate, few skilled workers, 50% illiteracy, dysfunctional government, inadequate roads and ports.

The main export is people, the main import is money sent back by the Haitians living abroad, many in the U.S. For a long time, the symbol of Haiti was the rickety boat filled with people drifting off the coast of Florida as Haitians tried to flee.

A lot of people want to help Haiti. Here’s the poorest country hit by the worst disaster.

Out of almost 10 million people, how many millions would leave if they could? Other countries don’t want or need millions of unskilled workers. That means helping Haitians in Haiti.

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