With the global food and fuel crisis hitting Haiti perhaps harder than any other nation, its poorest citizens are being pushed towards starvation and revolt, with many being forced to consume ‘mud cakes’ to stop the hunger burns.
In Cité Soleil, Haiti’s most notorious slum, it may appear like the pottery business is flourishing, with women molding clay and water into hundreds of little platters and laying them out to harden under the sun. However, these plates are not made to hold food – they are the food.
These ‘mud cakes’ have been consumed for many years by impoverished pregnant women seeking calcium – a medically unproven and risky supplement. Today, however, the patties have become a staple for entire families.
For many, they are the cheapest source of food and the only way to survive the current shortage. ‘It stops the hunger,’ said 35 year-old producer Marie-Carmelle Baptiste. ‘You eat them when you have to’.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that Haiti will experience the world’s most rapid increase in a national food import bill this year – estimated to leap by 80%. The UN also reports that two-thirds of Haitians are currently living on less than 50p a day and half are undernourished.
Haiti is a particularly vulnerable nation because it is almost completely reliant on food imports, as the slashing and burning of forests for farming and charcoal have devastated domestic agriculture. While the government has vowed to rebuild the farming structure, it faces a difficult fight against degraded soil, land ownership disputes, scarce resources and insufficient rural investment.
One hopeful example of change is being demonstrated by a growing franchise of localized dairies known as Let Agogo (Creole for Unlimited Milk). They have organized a group of small-scale farmers to transport and market milk, which is generating jobs and income, and has cut Haiti’s £20m annual milk import bill.