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Haiti’s Problems Part 2: Pigs and Rice


Web sites used for this post: (a particularly scathing review of the pig situation.)

1. Loss of self-sufficiency in rice production

In 1995, Haiti’s government reduced its tariff on imported rice from 50 percent to 3 percent.  Other Caribbean countries generally have tariffs in the 25 percent range.  The near-elimination of Haiti’s import tariff was a requirement of International Monetary Fund (IMF) support in the form of loans.  There were other requirements, which we will discuss at another time, but suffice it to say now that those requirements, generally referred to as “belt-tightening”, include reductions in salaries, reduction in social security payments, and measures to encourage an export-oriented economy.  Some have said that the IMF’s requirements for emergency loans have a negative impact on the poor and the social systems (including schools and health) of the countries affected.

As a result of the tariff reduction as well as internal policies of the American government, imported rice became significantly cheaper than locally grown rice, and rice production collapsed.  In the 1970’s,  it was said that Haiti was self-sufficient in rice production.   Now, 80 percent of rice consumed in Haiti is imported.  The locally grown varieties of rice have achieved a sort of “artisanal” status, and are sought after by Haitians who can afford them.

With the loss of local rice production, the Haitian farmer (60% of the population) became more impoverished.   Increasing numbers of farmers abandoned their land and moved to Port-au-Prince to look for work.  Haitian farmers were (and are) primitive in comparison to Americans, and have less than half the yield per acre under cultivation.   In addition, many years of poor practices have led to erosion and loss of topsoil from large areas of Haitian agricultural land, making restorative practices essential.  Haitian farmers have received little or no support, and are too poor to buy better rice varieties or invest in restoration of irrigation canals.

American rice producers, especially in Arkansas, benefited from the minimal tariff required by IMF, particularly because their production was supported by grants from the American government.   Arkansas was said to have received $2 billion in direct agricultural support payments over the period 1995-2011, half of which was for rice production.

Former President Bill Clinton has gone on record as apologizing for the rice tariff fiasco, which occurred on his watch.   He stated that the intent was to free farmers to participate in the global economy by taking industrial jobs.  He said that the policy was a mistake and did no good for the Haitian farmer, whether by giving him industrial work (for example, in factories that produce goods for export) or allowing him to restore his land.  Clearly, the result of these policies was further impoverishment for the Haitian peasants.

2. Destruction of the local variety of pig

In 1978, a new form of swine flu, African Swine Fever, swept through the Dominican Republic and threatened Haiti.  The government’s initial response was to destroy all Haitian pigs in the border area with the Dominicans.  No compensation was provided to the peasants for these pigs killed.  The border kill was ineffective, however, and the swine flu continued to spread.  American, Canadian, and Mexican governments, and the United Nations, launched a program in 1981 to destroy all of Haiti’s pigs.

An estimated 400,000 pigs were killed over a period of a year.   Over 500,000 pigs were said to have died of the swine flu.  Under the total destruction program, compensation was provided to the owners, but it was grossly inadequate in view of the central role that the local pig played in Haitian agriculture.  The replacement pigs were much more expensive to keep and were more susceptible to the marginal environment.  Many farmers were unable to support production of the new pig.

The Haitian pig, known as the Creole, was black and smaller than American-style pigs.  It roamed freely and ate many different foods, including roots, tubers, and underground insects, some of which were damaging the Haitian food crops.  Its excrement, manure, was used for fertilizer.  There was significant risk of transmission of human diseases through the pig because of the primitive sanitary conditions, but there was no mention in my sources of epidemics caused by this pig.

Most importantly, the Creole pig was adapted to the primitive style of agriculture that was practiced, and formed an important link in the fertilization of crops.  The replacement pig had to be kept in a roofed pig pen, given clean water and vaccinations, and was forbidden to consume human waste.  Because of extremely primitive sanitary conditions, the loss of the Creole pig left wastes of all kinds unconsumed and rotting on the ground.

The Creole pig also served as a form of wealth for the Haitian peasant, and it was said that one pig could provide the funding for two children to go to school for a year.   This wealth was transformed into debt if the farmer tried to raise the American pig according to instructions, and only wealthy Haitians were able to raise the new type of pig.

An American food company entered the pig market in Haiti and was contracted to provide the new pig along with all the ancillary equipment required.  The company was said to ” stand to gain nearly $1 billion from ” the new pig program, while the Haitian farmers were reimbursed a total of $7 million for the loss of all of their pigs.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide (admittedly not an objective observer) estimated that the destruction of the Creole pig cost the Haitian people $600 million.

There has been an effort underway for some years to breed the Creole pig and re-introduce it to the island.

3. Chronic indebtedness of the Haitian national government

Haitian debt started with independence.  When the slaves and mulattos overthrew the French-supported government, France instituted an embargo on the island which was only lifted when Haiti agreed to pay 150 million francs (the equivalent today of $21 billion) for the loss of its slaves and property on the island.  This was later reduced to 90 million francs.  The amount was based on detailed records kept by French plantation owners of the number of slaves they had kept.  This money demand was inappropriate since, according to modern human rights standards, no-one has a right to own another person.  Haiti was forced to pay the money because it was a small, poor island country with no other countries supporting it, and the French embargo prevented trade with any other country.  The debt was acknowledged as paid in 1893.  Nowadays, it is considered an example of “odious debt.”

In the twentieth century, Haiti accumulated debt under the administration of the oppressive Duvalier family.  The total debt was estimated at $1.8 billion in 2000; perhaps 40% of it went directly into the pockets of the Duvaliers.  Most of this debt was cancelled by the IMF, but some still remains.  Currently, the US is paying $9 million a year on Haiti’s behalf as debt service.  Because of multiple agencies’ efforts to cancel debt, most activists feel that what remains is not a priority.

Additional problems: maladministration of government, catastrophic storms and earthquakes (the first recorded in 1750), epidemics, destruction of farming land, and others will be discussed in a later post.




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