Jonathan M. Katz in Port-au-Prince, Haiti Associated Press
January 30, 2008
It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud.
With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some must take desperate measures to fill their bellies.
Charlene, 16 with a month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.
The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places such as Cité Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings, and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.
"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds, 3 ounces (2.7 kilograms, 85 grams) he weighed at birth.
Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too," she said.
Food Prices Up
Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation, and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.
The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.
The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the UN Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries.
Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.
Beans, condensed milk, and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost U.S. $1.50. Dirt to make a hundred cookies now costs U.S. $5, the cookie makers say.
Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $U.S. 2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.
Making the Cookies
Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shantytown.
Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.
The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.
A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.
Assessments of the health effects are mixed. Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases, said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating.
Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition.
"Trust me, if I see someone eating those cookies, I will discourage it," said Gabriel Thimothee, the executive director of Haiti's health ministry.
Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.
"I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," she said. "I know it's not good for me."
Welcome to the "Para Mexico" Kiva team blog. I am one of the team captains, my name is Cesar, but I use the initials of the names my two daughters as my Kiva ID ( M+M ).
I'm glad you made it into this blog. I use this blog to publish statistics about the team performance and growth, as well as information I find relevant about Kiva and micro lending. You can also find silly stuff I stumble upon the web every once in a while.
We are a group of lenders with a special interest in helping entrepreneurs in Mexico, we are also happy to support people in all five continents. We use the web platform Kiva put together to achieve that goal.
If you are already member of the team, feel free to explore the blog, you may find interesting facts about "Para Mexico". If you are not, then you are welcome to join. If you join my lending team, we can work together to alleviate poverty in Mexico, Latin America and around the world.
Once you are a part of the team, you can choose to have a future loan on Kiva "count" towards the team's impact. The loan is still yours, and repayments still come to you - but you can also choose to have the loan show up in our team's collective portfolio, so our team's overall impact will grow!
We have some fun events over the year, like the Valentine's Day loan-a-thon, and the M+M challenge in October. You can socialize with your fellow team members using the message board included on the team's page at the Kiva environment.
Kiva Microfunds is an organization that allows people to lend money via the Internet to micro finance institutions in developing countries which in turn lend the money to small businesses.
Those microfinance institutions around the world, called "Field Partners", post profiles of qualified local entrepreneurs on its website. Lenders browse and choose an entrepreneur they wish to fund. Kiva aggregates loan capital from individual lenders and transfers it to the appropriate Field Partners to disburse to the entrepreneur chosen by the lender. As the entrepreneurs repay their loans, the Field Partners remit funds back to Kiva. As the loan is repaid, the Kiva lenders can withdraw their principal or re-loan it to another entrepreneur.
On fall 2008, Kiva announced the creation of lending teams. Kiva lenders who wish to lend as a group can form a lending team. This allows anyone on the team to see which entrepreneurs other team members are lending to and allows you to track the impact that your group is making on Kiva.
"Para Mexico" was created as a Kiva Lending Team on Sept 8, 2008, to fund mostly entrepreneurs in Mexico. To date, the team has loaned about $51,000.00 to more than 1,400 entrepreneurs in all five continents. More than 210 members from around the world make "Para Mexico" one of the most active lending teams on Kiva.