Haiti Table of Contents
Cleaning drinkers at a chicken farm
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank
Most peasants possessed a few farm animals, usually goats, pigs, chickens, and cattle. Few holdings, however, were large, and few peasants raised only livestock. Many farm animals, serving as a kind of savings account, were sold or were slaughtered to pay for marriages, medical emergencies, schooling, seeds for crops, or a voodoo ceremony.
From the perspective of rural peasants, perhaps the most important event to occur in Haiti during the 1980s was the slaughter of the nation's pig stock, which had become infected with the highly contagious African Swine Fever (ASF) in the late 1970s. Having spread from Spain to the Dominican Republic and then to Haiti via the Artibonite River, ASF infected approximately one-third of the nation's pigs from 1978 to 1982. Farmers slaughtered their infected animals. Fear of further infection persuaded peasants to slaughter another one-third in panic sales. A government eradication program virtually wiped out what remained of the 1.2-million pig population by 1982.
At the grassroots level, the government's eradication and repopulation programs became highly controversial. Farmers complained that they were not fairly compensated for--or not paid at all for--their slaughtered livestock and that the sentinel breed of pigs imported from the United States to replace the hardy creole pigs was inappropriate for the Haitian environment and economy. Nonetheless, repopulation of the nation's pigs with both sentinel and Jamaican creole pigs augmented the national stock from an official figure of zero in 1982 to about 500,000 by 1989. Many analysts noted, however, that ASF and the pig slaughter had further impoverished already struggling peasants. The disaster forced many children to quit school. Small farmers mortgaged their land; others cut down trees for cash income from charcoal. The loss of the creole pigs to ASF undoubtedly increased the hardships of the rural population, and it may well have fueled to some degree the popular revolt that forced JeanClaude Duvalier from power.
Goats were one of the most plentiful farm animals in Haiti. Like the creole pigs, they were well adapted to the rugged terrain and sparse vegetation. Approximately 54 percent of all farmers owned goats; the total had climbed from 400,000 in 1981 to more than 1 million by the late 1980s. Peasants owned the majority of the country's estimated 1 million head of cattle in 1987; about 48 percent of the farmers owned at least one head of cattle. Until 1985 the primary export market for beef cattle was the American baby food industry. Farmers raised sheep in some areas, but these animals were not particularly well adapted to the country's climate. Chickens, ducks, turkeys, and guinea hens were raised throughout Haiti under little supervision, although one medium-sized hatchery raised chickens for domestic consumption. After the swine-fever epidemic and the subsequent slaughter of pigs, chicken replaced pork as the most widely consumed meat in the Haitian diet.
About 11,000 Haitians fished the nation's 1,500-kilometer coastline on a full-time or part-time basis, netting an average annual catch of 5,000 tons. The country imported an additional 12,000 tons a year of fish products to satisfy domestic demand. The island's coastal waters suffered from low productivity, and few fisherman ventured far from shore. Nevertheless, Haiti managed to export about US$4 million worth of lobster, conch, and other shellfish in the 1980s. Some minor aquaculture also existed.
Data as of December 1989