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25386: Verteuil: (reply) Pigs (fwd)
From: Patrick de Verteuil <email@example.com>
The Haitian pig story is now ancient history and seems to interest no one.
My Pig story, which follows, is factual and may help you set the record
Patrick de Verteuil
Every now and then, my wife, Mica the do-gooder, tries to do good by
me. I still believe that she had my best interests at heart when she
introduced me to Cicero. By 1978 her first school was three years old and
growing. As a result, caught between inflation and a fixed income, I was
beginning to feel the strain of being the school¹s sole source of financial
support. Cicero, Mica informed me, would not only help but would, with his
wives and offspring, take the whole burden from my financially weary
It was therefore with hope, tinged with a measure of doubt, that I
drove my Boston Whaler over the twenty kilometer, dead calm sea to Jérémie
where the meeting was to take place. The trip, in these ideal circumstances,
took only twenty-five minutes, (we have since, in the name of progress,
replaced the boat by a Jeep that does the trip, in fair or foul weather, in
two hours) and, having picked up the retiring chief of the local Agriculture
Ministry branch office, we proceeded to Cicero¹s home.
At a glance, it was evident why an aristocrat of Cicero¹s high breeding
would wish to relocate. Wooden posts carrying a thatched roof, a dirt floor
surrounded by a meter-high breezeblock wall and divided into two ³rooms² by
a somewhat higher wall. Each room was furnished with a concrete basin and a
pile of dirty straw.
Cicero, ever the dignified gentleman, came to welcome us by the door of
his room, putting his front paws on the wall and smiling. Cicero was a pig.
To be precise, he was a four year old, 200kg Hampshire, resplendent in his
black coat, with the distinctive six-inch wide white sash around his
shoulders. Mica assured me that Cicero would father many children on his
five wives. Cunegonde, his favorite was also a Hampshire; Anita and Emilia
were red Duroc-Jerseys; Lolly and Ernestine Large Whites. The enormous
profits to be gained by selling the produce one assumes without Cicero¹s
knowledge to the Port-au-Prince meat packers would amply cover present and
future school expenses, freeing my income for more congenial use read
electronic gadgets and other toys.
Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Why was the agronomist so
anxious to dispose of Cicero and his harem? Why did there not seem to be any
other eager bidders? Still, I am more interested in not having the will of
others imposed upon me than in imposing mine on others. In any event, it is
very difficult to deflect Mica once her mind is made up. Having made it
clear that my only contribution to the venture would be to oversee the
construction of Cicero¹s palatial Abricots residence, I left Mica to
negotiate the sordid financial details of the allegiance transfer.
It took three trips to ferry the whole tribe to Abricots. The pigs were
slowly walked down to the wharf, two by two, and once there, overfed to
ensure their quiet during the half hour ocean journey. Thankfully the sea
remained unusually calm.
The pigs having established temporary residence in a grove of mango
trees, the construction team that had acquired experience in the building of
our house made short work of a complex of pigsties designed to house six
adults and an eventual fifty adolescents ready for market. This complex,
equipped with sloping floors for waste disposal and running water piped from
a mile distant spring, apparently met with the approval of the builders of
whom several had to be dissuaded from moving in.
Mica hired a warden who, in true bureaucratic style, immediately hired
Having discovered that pigs were very fond of palm tree nuts for which
there seemed to be little other demand, Mica had her spies scour the
surrounding countryside and had, by the time I was forced to discontinue the
project, made palm nuts as expensive as the pearls one is proverbially loath
to cast before swine.
Ever progressive and? (³Who can live on nuts alone!²) Mica bought up
the local corn at one gourde a marmite (a 3.5 liter can commonly used as a
measure for grain). Outraged when the price rose to an extortionate two
gourdes, Mica decided to grow her own and managed in the next season to
produce corn, under close control conditions, which after seed, fertilizer,
labor and insecticide, cost a mere twelve gourdes a marmite. Just shucking
the corn which Haitian peasant families do for free as an evening
sing-along distraction came in at two gourdes a marmite.
From birth to a one hundred kilo market weight in six to eight months,
Mica with of course some assistance from Cicero was producing sixty, one
hundred, one hundred and fifty and by 1981, 200 pigs a year. Abricotains, in
common I think with most Haitians, like their pork meat fat. The local
Creole pig, cochon planche looked as skinny as its name (³plank pig²) but
held a much higher proportion of lard than the more refined Iowa hogs Mica
was raising. Hence even if the local market could have absorbed the numbers
she was producing, which it could not, Mica¹s only secure outlet remained
the HAMPCO packing plant in Port-au-Prince. Regrettably for protein
deficient Haiti, this plant exported nearly all of its production. At the
time they purchased, delivered at their door, a one hundred kilogram pig for
The aforementioned close accounting had established that, between
vaccines, iron and B12 vitamin injections, food, labor and transport, a pig
cost Mica $42.00. Ha! Ha! You say. A clear profit of $8.00 per pig!
Unfortunately there was a ti probleme (problems in Haiti are tactfully
always described as small).
These foreign pigs demand deluxe travel facilities such as carpeted and
padded trucks running on smooth roads; they react very poorly to Haitian
travel standards. Abricots to Port-au-Prince by coastal steamer is a
fourteen to umpteen-hour journey. Mica¹s pigs showed their disdain for the
travel conditions. One in five simply gave up and died and the others,
leaving home at a plump 100Kgs, arrived at a slender and un-saleable 70Kgs.
I once sat in a dugout canoe by the beach and watched a peasant from
the hills climb in. The peasant held a rope at the other end of which was a
cochon planche, who having been offered no seat in the dugout, had no choice
but to swim. On arrival at the coastal steamer, some two hundred meters out
in the middle of the bay, the rope end was thrown to some sailors. They
proceeded to haul the one hundred kilo swine up to the deck whilst his
master pushed and prodded at the rear end. Was any praise lavished on the
strength of the porker¹s neck? Ha! The only praise was for the quality and
strength of the rope. The pig was tied to the rail at the stem of the boat,
sharing company with half a dozen steers tied tightly by their horns. They
had boarded, up the coast, from the Dame Marie dock.
Next morning, in Port-au-Prince, the cattle where led off, trampling and
kicking the pig as they went. The pig lay on the deck, apparently dead,
until his owner showed up and unhitched the rope. The pig stood up, shook
himself like a dog out of a bath, and ambled off the boat with a cheerful
smirk on his face.
Back home I called Mica to a summit meeting at which I argued that I
could continue to subsidize either the school or the pig farm, but not both.
Inexplicably and to my dismay Mica unhesitatingly chose to keep the school.
I really liked Cicero with whom I had established a mutual admiration
society, but he and his tribe would apparently have to go. A few were sold
at steep discounts to the local butchers and the rest distributed free and
gratis to any willing breeder. Six months later no trace of Mica¹s
experiment remained in the region, other than her pigsties being rapidly
overtaken by tropical vines and ruin.
Within months, African swine fever having been discovered in Haiti, a
pig eradication campaign was launched. This disease, although not
transferable to humans, is mortal and untreatable in pigs. Had I waited I
could have had all our pigs slaughtered at home and received their carcasses
plus $40.00 a head. Once again I had demonstrated my uncanny ability to buy
at the top and sell at the bottom of the market.
I really have no quarrel with the pig eradication program except that
it prejudged the pig repopulation program that followed. It was obvious to
all in retrospect, and in advance to many with links to the rural masses and
to pigs, that selected, disease free cochon planche should have been
preserved in a quarantine environment such as Tortuga Island, to participate
in any eventual repopulation program. Once again the ³experts² got it wrong,
not because of a lack of expertise (they knew everything there is to know
about pigs) but because their expertise was irrelevant as they knew next to
nothing about Haitian peasants.
When the African swine fever first showed up in Haiti, some 5% (say
50,000) pigs (such as Mica¹s) were ³Iowa hogs² quite successfully raised by
wealthy farmers in a semi urban environment, with easy access to commercial
food, water and markets. It was therefore completely unnecessary to produce
long doctoral pieces to prove that these pigs could stand the climate.
The remaining 95% of Haiti¹s pigs were cochon planche quite successfully
raised by peasant farmers, generally residing one hour or more walking
distance from a road and with no access (physical or financial) to
commercial feed. Sure, these were inferior animals in many respects, having
small litters and taking three or four years to reach marketing size.
On the other hand they were infinitely superior in the things that
mattered to the peasantry, surviving on less than three liters of water per
day and able to walk long distances to market.
The average peasant family hardly consumes the 25 liters a day
essential to a pair of Iowa hogs, generally having to carry the stuff a mile
or more, up the hill from a spring. In addition the Creole pigs were made to
walk to the water, an exercise beyond the ability of the Iowans.
The experts and their sponsors undoubtedly meant well, but their
attempt to repopulate with superior pigs nearly led to a revolution, as one
of the few economic activities in the hands of the poor rural farmers was
transferred to the ³rich² (everything is relative) semi-urban farmers.
The purchasable pig feed of choice turned out to be wheat bran, left
over after the grain much of it donated by the United States Agency for
International Development (USAID) was ground into flour at the mill near
Port-au-Prince. The son de blé supply ran out when the Iowa hogs reached
some 4 or 5 hundred thousand, and they started to die of starvation. Within
three months they were down to the 50,000 or so existing prior to the
eradication program. For a short period the pig production of the ³rich² was
multiplied by a factor of 10 whilst that of the poor was divided by 50. I
doubt that Iowa pigs ever exceeded 20,000 in the rural countryside.
Sound the trumpets! Blow the horns! Here come the French to the
For most of the twentieth century France and the United States have
been jousting? in Haiti, in a generally amicable contest for cultural
influence. Military and political matters are, as per the Monroe Doctrine,
hors concours, but this leaves plenty of scope for a perpetual French versus
English, and Catholic versus Protestant contest. America¹s size, wealth and
proximity make it of course the usual winner, leading the French to savor
their rare successes all the more.
With some foresight, or through blind luck, the French had already been
at work; even before the Iowa hog fiasco had run its course. The cochon
planche was a regretted memory. Even its cousin in Martinique pigsties was
considered too soft and sophisticated for the replacement task so that it
was crossed with a Chinese breed. The resultant porker proved to have all
the necessary qualities except that its legs were too short for the long
walks up and down Haiti¹s mountains. A further crossing with a pig from
Gascony (home of D¹Artagnan of Three Musqueteer fame) did the trick. The
³Chinois/Gascon/Creole² is definitely a success. Badly treated, it makes out
nearly as well as did the cochon planche; well treated it grows nearly as
fast and is more prolific than the Iowa hogs.
A not inconsequent fringe benefit comes from its generally black color,
which makes it highly desirable for service in the more arcane Voodoo
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