Monday, 18 January 2010

The Tale of the Creole Pig

This is not a math blog, except that it has to do with logic, or the lack thereof, but I teach kids, and this is a story my bright kids need to read.....and thanks to JD2718 in New York for passing this along.

Just before the recent storm hit Haiti, Kendra Pierre-Louis wrote this blog about the Creole Pigs that were once literally everywhere in Haiti, and how they came NOT to be there. It is a story of the worst indifference to sustainable development, and needs to be shared. ... This is me sharing. Since Blogs come and go, I am copying the whole thing below, but I do encourage you to read the original:
Growing up in the United States, I grew up listening to my Haitian father speak longingly of two things that he said we couldn't get quite right in the US. The first were mangoes. Most of the mangoes that are found in the US are vaguely round like a Nerf football, and have a mostly deep reddish hue when ripe. They are beautiful, but to hear my father speak, are to the mango what the Red Delicious is to the apple: overproduced and vaguely generic.

The mango of his childhood, the Madame Francis mango, is flatter and green - like an overgrown lima bean. Even at its ripest it only hints at a dusky yellow color. It is also unique to Haiti. I've had it, and he's right it is delicious a queen among mangoes.

My father's other long lost food craving, pork from the Creole Pig, was also unique to Haiti. Unlike the pink pig encapsulated in the image of Wilbur, the pig from Charlotte's web, the Creole Pig was not pink. It, like the population of Haiti, was black and thus unlike American pigs did not sunburn. Raised by eighty to 85% of rural households, the relatively small but dense Creole pig subsisted not on grain, but on the detritus of the island's human population. It could thrive on the husk of rice, the cob of corn. In a nation without consolidated trash pickup the Creole pig acted as the nation's garbage men playing a key role in maintaining the fertility of the soil. And, because it was not dependent on feed for its survival, it functioned for the peasant population as a sort of mobile, literal piggy bank - the animals were sold or slaughtered to pay for school, for marriages, for unexpected medical expenses.

All of this is spoken in the past tense because between the 1970s and the 1980s the Creole pigs were systematically eradicated under pressure of the US government.

Like most of development history some of the facts are in contention, but this much is certain. In the 1970's the African Swine River Virus had spread from Spain to the Dominican Republic and then to Haiti by virtue of the Artibonite River which straddles the two countries.

Now comes the contentious part.

By 1982, says the United States government almost 1/3rd of Haiti's pig population was infected. A lot of Haitians (and many independent organizations) argue otherwise. What is not in contention is that the US in fear of the virus spreading to its own pig population pressured Haiti's government to seize all of the pigs and kill them.

Everyone who had pigs seized were supposed to be compensated in the form of replacement pigs - fat, pink pigs from the American Midwest, deemed 'better' by the USDA. These pigs needed clean drinking water (which 80% of Haitians did not have access to), $90 dollars a year in feed (in a nation where per capita income was $130 dollars a year), vaccination, and special roofed pens to serve as protection from the harsh Caribbean sun.

Does anyone see a problem with this?

Never mind the fact that many Haitians who had their pigs seized were never actually compensated (more on that in a second) - they couldn't have afforded the compensation anyway. In fact, many of those who received pigs found that their new pigs rapidly died.

So much for 'better'.

The eradication of the Creole pig only served to further impoverish Haitians. It forced many children to quit school, forced small farmers to mortgage and eventually lose their land, and forced many Haitians to cut down trees, rapidly increasing the Island's rate of deforestation, to create cash income from charcoal. All simply to save an already rich country from the small risk (and by most independent accounts the number of pigs infected in Haiti was much smaller than the 33% cited by the US) posed to it by a poor, tiny isla
nd nation.

It was, however, a boon to US pig farmers who generated millions in revenue according to grassroots international offloading these ill suited pigs on poor Haitian peasants. How?

In order to get a replacement pig, Haitians were required to pay a princely sum of $50 dollars per pig.


nbmrtyi said...

So unfortunately typical of what happens between those that have power and those that don't

Anonymous said...

Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today..........................

Pat's Blog said...

As part of our aid to the survivors of the earthquake, the US would be wise to re-introduce the amazing black pig. It would help with clean up and bring a ray of hope to the devastated. But then.... when has wisdom ever been an aspect of our foreign policy. How sad.