Haiti, the fifth-largest importer of American rice

Haiti is experiencing an imminent food crisis, which has at its core the destruction of rice farming. The agricultural sector of Haiti, made up of subsistence farmers, cannot compete in an international market overrun with poor quality imports, especially rice, Haiti's number one staple.


Back in the 1970s, rice cultivation was a thriving industry, requiring no foreign imports to meet domestic needs. But that changed at the start of the 1990s. An attempted coup against then-President Aristide set off global trade embargos, stifling Haiti's export market. At this juncture, cheap imports from abroad came in droves. Haiti, a desperately poor country, has needed development banks' aid. They drove a hard bargain, enforcing a lower import tariff, from 50% to 3%. This negatively impacted the economy, because it became more affordable to import U.S. rice than to farm it domestically.

The U.S. made use of this bonanza, supporting rice farming, and urging overproduction. The surfeit was then exported overseas. With the import tariff at only 3%, Haiti has become the 5th largest importer of U.S. rice. Arkansas farmers got $1 billion in payouts from the federal government for rice crops from 1995-2011. As a result, Haiti receives upwards of 80% or more of its rice from the U.S.

Some experts suggest loosening import regulations, acknowledging Haiti's potential as an exporter of agricultural goods, and raising funding of rice cultivation. But Haiti's agricultural sector does not possess bargaining tools to seal contracts with major players in the global import-export markets.

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