Some experts believe investment will have to come from abroad, possibly in the form of large U.S. companies who invest in entire value chains, from farms to processing plants. But the barriers to entry in Haiti are formidable, particularly with a government bureaucracy that is sometimes its own worst enemy. Four years ago, Carl Brothers, the vice president of marketing for Riceland Foods in Stuttgart, began to think of ways that the company could invest in Haiti's agriculture sector. "It's an important market to us, we value our relationship with the Haitian people," Brothers explained. "We met with the last two Haitian presidents and talked to them about how we could help."
Brothers said he believes rice is simply too expensive to grow in Haiti but felt that investments in corn or other fruits and vegetables could give Haitian farmers a competitive advantage. Despite Riceland's efforts, however, the company was unable to make progress. "Everyone gets fervored up and we call and call and call and can't get anyone to call back," Brothers recalled.
A congressional effort to scale back U.S. farm subsidies as part of a new farm bill could give Haiti a rare window of opportunity to begin growing its own food. But if the country does not move fast enough, it may simply shift its dependence from the United States to other countries. Last year, in what may be a glimpse of things to come, Brazil moved over a million tons of rice onto the world market -- including thousands of tons of rice into Haiti.
The stakes could not be higher for Haiti as it attempts to rebound from the 2010 earthquake, as well as decades of stagnant economic growth and political instability. Food sovereignty, a quaint and impractical idea to some, is fraught with symbolism in Haiti -- a country where foreign NGOs are often more visible than the national government and U.N. peacekeeping forces are in their ninth year patrolling the streets. "We are losing our identity," said Josette Perard, the nonprofit chief in Port-au-Prince. "When your belly is in the hand of the foreigner, you lose your respect. And people want to regain their self-respect."