School Kids Eat Haitian Rice For Lunch

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Two years after the quake, many Haitian schools are serving their children with food grown locally. Knowing they have a buyer, farmers are motivated to produce more food. Knowing they'll get good food, kids are keen to go to school - where they get the nutrition they need, plus an education. It's the virtuous circle at the heart of the strategy by the government and WFP to make Haitians more food secure.

PORT-AU-PRINCE-- Rice dust is filling up the air and leaving bags and workers at the warehouse of the Moreau Paye Planter’s Association covered with a thin coat of white powder. This is the Artibonite Valley, Haiti’s biggest rice production area.

Sitting under tarpaulins that only let in a few rays of sunlight, about twenty men and women filter, separate and pack the September rice harvest in big bags marked with the World Food Programme’s logo. “We have 1,150 members farming on approximately 500 hectares of land,” explains Louis Fresnel, the president of the association. “Working together helps us get stronger and develops our sense of solidarity.

This year, we have won bids to sell most of our production to the World Food Programme and to the French Government, that then donates the rice to WFP. We are also negotiating with a local buyer to see whether he would like to purchase from us next year,” he adds. In 2011, WFP purchased over 3,000 mt of rice produced by Haitian farmers and used in the school meals program.

Fedeline Jean, 34, is a farmer and a member of the Moreau Paye Planter’s Association. Near the warehouse, she works with her husband at preparing the rice paddies for the upcoming harvest, planned for March. “ It’s good for us that WFP is purchasing some of our rice because it helps stabilize our revenues,” she says. "Besides, now I know that the association’s rice is served in the canteen of the school where my children go. It makes me feel good, because I know they’re eating at school”.

Her opinion is confirmed at mealtime in the refectory of the Presbyterian school of L’Estère. "At home, mom cooks the same thing; I like rice”, said Fedjina Charles, Fedeline’s 6 year old daughter. Her older brother, Woodjeri Charles, 10, seated at the table with his friends, agrees: “I like Haitian rice. It’s good!" Sister Adène Anilus, director of the school, confirms that "the school canteen provides a fundamental support to parents who are suffering financially and struggling to feed their families.”

To continue its mandate to fight against food insecurity and promote local food production, the Ministry of Agriculture has established a strategy with WFP and other partners to establish strong and lasting relationships between the school meals programme and groups of small farmers.

"This is one of the government’s priorities”, said Michel Chancy, Secretary of State of Haiti on livestock production. "In this way, school canteens also generate income. The volume of these purchases is still relatively low, but we have set the trend and are determined to continue this policy of local procurement”.

As part of the WFP’s local purchases program, several thousand metric tons of rice and maize meal have been purchased from local producers since the earthquake. More than 800,000 bottles of milk purchased from small farmers have been distributed to schools in 2011. Over the next three years, WFP plans to buy four million additional bottles.

Even in the days immediately following the earthquake, WFP bought part of its food assistance on the local markets. This policy has met with success since the last purchase of Haitian rice by WFP was made at a price much more competitive than before. This proves that this mechanism increases the competitiveness of the markets, supports productivity and increases the incomes of local farmers. "It’s a long-term benefit for the country,” said Myrta Kaulard.

"This is to encourage agricultural production. Farmers in the countryside may be reluctant to produce more because they know that their isolation often makes access to markets difficult.” For many Haitians, the persistence of food insecurity that is affecting 45% of the population is quite rightly seen as an emergency. This is why the Haitian authorities requested WFP to focus its intervention on a range of programmes to provide food assistance to the most vulnerable and to support recovery efforts in the country.