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Development and Advocacy: Working Together

In March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its plan to ship 500 metric tons of surplus U.S. peanuts to Haiti. The surplus stems from a 2014 Farm Bill that incentivizes an increase in peanut and other crop production. The Department planned to ship the peanuts to malnourished school children in Haiti.

Sounds like a good plan right? In reality, it’s not.

The initiative to ship peanuts may be beneficial to U.S. farmers and the U.S. government, but it would have devastating effects on small farmers in Haiti. Every year, over 150,000 Haitian farmers produce 70,000 metric tons of peanuts. Peanut production in Haiti employs over half a million people, the majority of which are women. Peanuts are a critical part of Haiti’s economy—now more than ever as Haiti is in its third year of drought and peanuts are a drought resistant crop.

In response to the plan, over sixty Haitian and U.S. organizations sent an open letter in opposition to the USDA shipment for these reasons.

The Office of Social Justice (OSJ) was soon contacted by World Renew’s technical advisor on food security and agriculture, who asked us to advocate against the peanut shipment as well. World Renew field staff in Haiti confirmed the damaging effects the planned shipment would have on small farmers in Haiti. World Renew has been working in Haiti since 1975 on such initiatives as offering training to improve agricultural techniques, providing relief programs following devastating natural disasters, and assisting displaced Haitian families.

Together, OSJ and World Renew wrote a letter to the three USDA agencies involved in organizing and implementing the peanut shipment. The letter expressed opposition to the planned shipment and urged the USDA to invest in alternative development and aid initiatives that would have real benefits for the people of Haiti.

Due to the outcry against the peanut shipment, the USDA worked with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to mitigate the effects the surplus peanuts would have on the Haitian economy and small farmers. The USDA did this by packaging the peanuts in individual bags, distributing them only at schools for snacks, and developing a monitoring and evaluation program with the WFP. Although the USDA did not halt the shipment as requested and although it is hard to ensure that small farmers will not be negatively affected, the USDA did listen and make changes due to our combined advocacy with other organizations!

It is critical to have a connection and dialogue between development staff on the ground and advocates working for policy change. Advocacy needs to be grounded in the voices of those affected. World Renew and OSJ communicate and work together to make sure that the policies advocated for in the U.S. work for the marginalized communities served by World Renew and the Christian Reformed Church.

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Editor’s note: This post is part of our Advocacy Works series. Want to read another advocacy success story? Read about how World Renew and the OSJ worked together to promote nutrition during the crucial first 1,000 days of babies' lives here.

[Image: Flickr user Andrew Malone. Adapted from original with permission.]

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