Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Tony Weis


Haiti is one of the poorest and most severely hunger-stricken countries in the world (GHI 2013). Its contradictions are jarring: although Haiti has the largest relative agrarian population in the Western Hemisphere and relatively less land inequality than the rest of the region (Smucker et al. 2000; Wiens and Sobrado 1998), it is extremely food insecure. Almost 90 percent of the rural population lives below the poverty line (FAO 2014; IFAD 2014), and Haiti relies on food imports for 60 percent of national consumption (OXFAM 2010). Some scholars argue that the spread of commodity relations, persistent rural class differentiation, and dispossession mean that most peasants can no longer reproduce themselves outside of markets, having been transformed into petty commodity producers with many households depending upon some degree of off-farm earnings (Bernstein 2001; Araghi 1995). Others, however, claim that ‘de-peasantization’ is far from inevitable, and stress that peasants continue to persist with varying relations to markets, still constitute a large share of humanity, and are actively fighting to defend their livelihoods (Ploeg 2009; Borras and Edelman 2008; McMichael 2006). At the broadest level, this dissertation explores contemporary struggles facing Haitian peasants in the belief that while they face extremely adverse circumstances, their continuing decline is far from inevitable. On the contrary, this dissertation is premised on the conviction that improving the livelihoods of peasant farmers is fundamental to reducing poverty and food insecurity in Haiti.

More specifically, the papers in this dissertation explore various key aspects of Haiti’s agriculture and food system, including dietary aspirations, an intensifying agro-export push, and competing visions for rural development in the wake of the disastrous 2010 earthquake. Individually and collectively, considerable attention is given to some of the enduring legacies of the colonial period, and the interconnections between race, class, and food, while being sure to situate the cultural dimensions of peasant problems in their political economic context. This includes focusing heavily on the role played by dominant ‘development’ actors in Haiti (the foreign donor community; NGOs; the state; transnational corporations; domestic agribusinesses and merchant elites) and their relations with peasants in the post-earthquake period. The foundation of this dissertation is extensive field research conducted between November 2010 and July 2013 in a commune in Haiti’s Artibonite Department, the most important food producing part of the country. Field research involved a range of qualitative methods, including interviews, focus groups, and participant observation. My hope is that this dissertation offers a rich, deeply grounded contribution into some of the most crucial issues influencing agrarian change and food security in Haiti today, and provides valuable insights into agrarian change and peasant livelihoods and struggles in Haiti and beyond.