Once a special food consumed on Sunday, rice has become the main staple of the Haitian diet, especially among low-income people. Imported rice accounts for the vast bulk (83 percent) of consumption. Current imports total some 380,000 tons annually, at a cost of $200 million a year. The irrigated Artibonite Valley region is, by far, the main rice production area in Haiti, accounting for up to 80 percent of national production.
In light of these figures, it is clear that any discussion of food security in Haiti must address the supply side of rice. A substantial increase in local production is needed to reduce dependence on external supplies, particularly given high and volatile international prices, and to improve the incomes of local producers, especially smallholder farmers.
The Haitian rice economy is directly linked to international markets. Most projections suggest that global prices will remain high and volatile for the foreseeable future. In addition, international rice markets remain distorted by high levels of subsidies in some producer countries, notably the United States. The latter country is the fifth-largest exporter globally, but accounts for the lion’s share of Haiti’s imports. Heavy dependence on imports leaves Haiti vulnerable to price spikes, which are leading to discontent similar to that experienced in 2008, when food price riots led to the collapse of the government of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis.
Macroeconomic factors have created a significant price advantage for imported rice in the Haitian market. In particular, Haiti reduced its tariff on foreign rice from 50 percent to 3 percent in 1995, and the local currency, the Haitian gourde, has appreciated vis-à-vis the US dollar. In addition, a small number of politically influential importers dominate the market.