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Opinion

12 May 2017

Author:
Lani Inverarity, Accountability Counsel & Joseph Wendy Alliance, ActionAid Haiti

Manufacturing a food crisis: Caracol Industrial Park, Haiti

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The Inter-American Development Bank has responded to many of the issues raised in this blog. 

When the Inter-American Development Bank invested US$242 million in a garment factory complex in Northeast Haiti, it did not account for the project’s threat to food security – the ability of local families to reliably access sufficient, nutritious food. In a region and country that suffers regular food crises, that oversight had grave consequences. Finding a solution must start by talking with local communities.

The link between the Park and food insecurity

In its haste to finance the construction of the Caracol Industrial Park, a compound of garment factories and related infrastructure, the Bank failed to take into account the ripple effects of seizing fertile land from farmers.

In early January 2011, around 442 farmers and their families were cultivating the land that would become the Park site. It was the most fertile land in the area, supporting a wide range of crops as well as cattle. A baseline study, undertaken only after the Park displaced the farmers, estimated that the land produced 1,400 metric tons of food per year. The produce and livestock were the primary sources of income and nutritious food for the families.

Later that month, with no more than a few days’ notice, farmers found their land fenced off to make way for the Park.

“I’ve farmed my land for 21 years and was then forced to leave for the construction of this park. I grew black beans, cassava, corn, peanuts and bananas on my land and raised all of my children because of that land. I would hire 100 seasonal workers during our planting seasons…Now that I’ve lost my land, I don’t have a penny.”

 

Elie Josué had a plot of 4.5 hectares and exported his produce throughout Haiti. Here he holds a ledger of his seasonal workers.

 

The families waited almost three years for promised replacement land, only to be told that most families would instead receive an inferior sum of cash as compensation. This was insufficient to obtain new land, and almost all of the families now struggle to meet their basic needs.

“Before we had tomatoes, peas, when we went to the market we would make money and could buy food. Today I can't buy…Today I can't do anything to earn money, it's my children who help me, when I need to buy water, anything” 

 

Anne Leroy heads her household. She was 67 years old when her land was taken in 2011.

How the Bank should have avoided this unnecessary food crisis

Large-scale acquisitions of farmland frequently have serious human rights and food security impacts: in highly food insecure, net-food-importing countries such as Haiti, those impacts are almost inevitable. Sixty percent of Haiti’s population relies on agriculture for food security and income, while 50% of the population has insufficient food, including 22% of children under five. The Northeast department, where the Park is located, is in “crisis” with chronic food insecurity aggravated by drought.

Accordingly, the Bank’s own policies, as well as international human rights norms (including those targeting large-scale land acquisitions), required the evaluation and management of food security impacts. Compliance with these safeguards would have avoided the worst harm suffered by the Caracol families. For example:

Local communities must be meaningfully informed and consulted before the investment is finalised. Had communities been consulted earlier, the food security risks would have been clear. A public consultation, held after the land was taken, revealed that:

“Entire families depend on these plots to feed their children and pay school fees, health care costs and reimburse debts…Almost every day and all year long, they draw leaves or vegetables that contribute to their diet.”

Impact assessments, which must specifically consider risks to food security, should be completed before project approval. In this case, an environmental and social impact assessment was undertaken only afterthe farmers were displaced. Even then, it was incomplete. It estimated that 1,000 people were displaced when the actual number was approximately 3,500. It did not include any Resettlement Action Plan.


Prior to limiting access to productive land, all feasible alternatives must be explored in consultation with the affected people. The Park’s location was chosen based on a 2010 study that lacked any comprehensive environmental and social analysis. The study wrongly described the site as “devoid of habitation and intensive cultivation”, when the opposite was plainly visible.


Forced evictions must be accompanied by timely and adequate compensation and alternative access to productive land. The compensation offered to farmers was deficient in many ways. After making them wait for three years, the Bank and its client abandoned an agreement to provide replacement land. Instead, they paid cash compensation that underestimated their losses. Families received little or no support to establish new livelihoods. As a result, most families have faced – and continue to face – severe food shortages.

The way forward

Earlier this year, the Kolektif Peyizan Viktim Tè Chabè, a collective of hundreds of displaced farmers, filed a complaint with the Bank’s independent accountability office (“MICI”), calling for fair compensation for their lost land and for the Bank to address other environmental and social problems linked to the Park. The Bank’s response to their complaint admits that addressing the environmental and social impacts of the Park “has been a considerable challenge”, blaming in large part, “the short time frame for the design, approval and start of construction and operation of the facilities”. This response fails to acknowledge, however, the severe cost of that haste borne by local communities.

In spite of how they have been treated, the Kolektif believes that fair compensation remains possible. Their complaint seeks a constructive dialogue with the Bank and its client, the Haitian government, facilitated by MICI. MICI is in the process of meeting with the parties to determine whether they are willing to participate. Given the lack of consultation, delays and broken promises to date, the Bank and the Haitian government owe the Kolektif at least a willingness to listen to their concerns and their proposed solutions to the harm suffered.

 

Jean Jocelyn grows oranges, bananas and manioc (cassava) to feed his family and generate a small income.