A statement from Partners In Health:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced a deal to ship 500 metric tons of peanuts grown in the United States to school children in Haiti later this year. We believe this action is wrong. Shipping excess U.S. peanuts to Haiti—known as “crop dumping”—will be a disaster for Haitian peanut farmers, and ultimately won’t help the people USDA intends to serve.

Levels of food insecurity and hunger are extremely high in Haiti, and we have a responsibility to act. We agree that providing assistance to hungry people is critical, but it shouldn’t come in the form of food that is currently being produced by local farmers.

There is precedent that supports our concern. Flooding local markets with outside crops has a profoundly negative impact on the Haitian economy and the well-being of the Haitian poor. It undermines local food production and forces farmers whose livelihoods have failed into rapid and uncontrolled urbanization to city slums. Perhaps most importantly, crop dumping has not produced a positive outcome in the nutritional status of Haitians who are poor.

There is a long history of food assistance to poor countries; the export of rice to Haiti in the 1980s is just one example. But that particular effort was a mistake, as former President Bill Clinton acknowledged in 2010: “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked,” he said. “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. … We should have continued to work to help [Haitians become] self-sufficient in agriculture.”

In contrast to U.S. farmers, Haitian farmers have no entities lobbying on their behalf, and the Haitian government doesn’t have the financial resources to subsidize farmers and protect them against imbalanced trade agreements, fluctuations in the market, and adverse climate events. Rather than cope with excess crops from the U.S., Haitian farmers instead need financial protection. They need monetary and technical support to continue and increase their production, and a guarantee their crops will fetch a decent price. They—and Haitian leaders—have advocated for decades for intentional investments that support rural development, including agricultural development.

For us at Partners In Health, peanut farming is at the center of this discussion because peanuts are a crop that can be used to markedly improve the nutrition of children. In addition to being widely grown and eaten as part of a regular diet, we use locally grown peanuts to make ready-to-use therapeutic food—a lifesaving treatment for children with severe malnutrition. We purchase these peanuts from local farmers to make the nutritionally fortified peanut product that is the medical treatment for children who are dying of starvation.

This collaborative effort—which supports better farming and increased crop yield, guarantees farmers a stable, paying market for their crop, and utilizes their crop to provide lifesaving malnutrition treatment—creates a virtuous cycle for the rural poor. Peanut dumping will destroy this cycle—as well as the livelihoods of many peanut farmers—in the areas where we work, as well as across the country.

We can’t let this happen.

We have worked side by side with the Haitian poor for more than 30 years, and we have seen crop dumping result in the progressive loss of food security and food sovereignty for the Haitian people. We know that better alternatives exist, and many of them are being supported by the U.S. government already. We welcome and encourage expansion of these initiatives.

We applaud efforts to provide aid in the form of technical and monetary support to farmers to increase their local production, in the provision of cash transfers, and in the provision of vouchers or locally procured food commodities that can support local markets.

We urge that the USDA reverse its decision to send U.S. surplus peanuts to Haiti. Dumping peanuts will undermine the price local peanut farmers will receive for their goods, diminishing their ability to subsist and eliminating their livelihoods. Instead, Haiti needs humanitarian support that does not undermine the livelihoods of the rural poor.