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Haiti: Pig Eradication, Pro and Contra

posted by Nik Barry-Shaw Geography: Latin America Haiti Topics: haiti

June 15, 2007

Haiti: Pig Eradication, Pro and Contra

For the good summary of the general case of the critics of the pig eradication program in Haiti, see the excerpt below from Free speech, neo-colonialism and micro-powered broadcasting in Haiti.

For a criticism of the critics see: Whether Pigs Have Wings by Philip Gaertner. This summary of his report claims, among other things, that 1) not all the imported pigs replacing the native pigs were white, 2) critics underplayed the threat of the African Swine Fever to the livelihood of the Haitian peasant 3) the imported pigs were just as hearty (in terms of vulnerability to disease and other environmental conditions) as the kreyol pigs, and 4) the imported pigs were just as economical to raise as the kreyol pigs.

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1978 brought African swine fever to Haiti's then one-million strong black pig population. In Haitian Kreyol, the word for pig and bank are the same. And the rural peasants, who comprise over seventy percent of the Haitian population, treated their pigs as banks. Pigs brought down farming costs by aerating the soil; they kept sanitation levels high by eating household waste; they produced nitrogen-rich fertilizer. In times of crisis they could be sold for a hundred bucks - as much as a peasant might make in a year - to pay for medical bills, a funeral, or maybe a wedding. In times of crisis, they could be eaten.

By 1981, the disease had ravaged hundreds of thousands of pigs - a natural disaster attributable to poor customs practices, or the will of the Vodou spirits. A feeling just as natural - fear - and one less natural - the taste for profit - aroused a concerned response from the American pork industry. Soon after, the Haitian Pig Eradication Program was underway. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (an agency of the Organization of American States), the Inter-American Development Bank and various segments of governments in the Dominican Republic, Canada, the United States and Haiti combined forces - with the U.S. weighing in heavily. According to Robert Lawless, author of Haiti's Bad Press, "over fifteen million dollars of the total project price of twenty-three million dollars came from the United States, and the Agency for International Development [USAID] took a leading role in the project." As peasants in the Haitian countryside explained the procedure to Govinda Dalton, Duvalier's henchman approached pig owners with a choice to the effect of kill your pig or we'll machete you. "The program lasted from 1981 to 1983. By August 1984, Haiti was declared free of swine fever, and," Lawless writes, "of pigs."

Chosen for high feed conversion rates rather than adaptability, an American breed of fat white Iowa pig was brought in to repopulate. They could not take the Haitian heat. Special concrete houses were built to keep them cool at the central breeding site in Port-au-Prince. Recipients of the new imported pigs had to pay to build such houses on their own property. Pere Miso, a parish priest from Les Cayes, spoke to Dalton about the new pigs. "Those pigs are not adapted to our country. Those pigs need a lot of food. A lot of food. The native pig we had, they ate anything. From the tree. From the kitchen. But the American pigs won't eat just anything. Special American feed has to be imported." At the cost of about $100 per-year-per-pig these animals require more in spending than most peasants make. A bad agronomic joke, the pig fiasco holds a fun-house mirror up to race and class relations. The black pigs are eradicated and white ones are bred in their place. The price of feeding the white pig comes at the expense of the black peasant's stomach.

No education efforts were undertaken to teach pig owners how to prevent African swine fever. No peasants were told that the meat of their sick pigs was still edible. USAID made promises to repay pig owners for their losses, but few farmers saw any money. Some analysts credit the pig fiasco with mass migration to Haiti's cities, which has left Port-au-Prince, for one, bursting at the seams. Some credit the Pig Eradication Program with Operation Dechoukay - the 1986 overthrow of Jean-Claude Baby Doc Duvalier's regime.

As Dalton understands the situation, rural folk are left with empty hands. "The only way for them to make quick cash is to chop down the trees. These can be sold for charbon, charcoal, which is used as cooking fuel. The long term result is mass deforestation - now at 95%. The climate gets hotter. Erosion, which affects a quarter of Haiti's soil, is aggravated. Soil and sediment fill the streams. The fresh water supply is destroyed. You get this incredible cycle," the soft-talking Dalton says, "that all comes back to the American taxpayer."

The cycle may not be as mechanical as all that. But American farmers looking to maintain export markets and multinational corporations hungry for wage-fodder have interests in keeping the Third World agriculturally, hence economically, dependent. That dependence is fostered by International Monetary Fund and World Bank requirements that tariffs on imports be low. When it is cheaper to import rice from the U.S. than to grow it at home, dependence is guaranteed.


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