The importance of peanuts

This morning I went to the fridge, grabbed the jar of natural peanut butter and put some on my toast. Then I screwed the lid back on and put it back. And the world spun madly on.

Ever since I came back from Haiti, I've thought a lot about peanut butter, or mamba. Mamba is a staple in Haitian cuisine and life and one that surprised me in many ways.

I knew very little about Haiti prior to going there. Not that I am an expert now, but spending 9 days there did teach me a whole heck of a lot. The Learning Tour I was one focused on "Soil to Table," which was one of the main reasons I wanted to go. I love food (just in case you had any doubts). But what that meant in Haiti, a country that struggles with daily food security, was hard to guess.

Like I said, Haitian food surprised me because even though the main staples are simple, the food is amazing. They don't have a lot to work with, but they manage to make the most delicious dishes from basic ingredients. I hate to be the person who uses the word "umami" but really the food in Haiti was rich in umami. Overall, there aren't a lot of spices that are used in daily dishes, but still they had a depth of flavor I was not expecting. Honestly, I was anticipating similar things to what I've eaten in Central America. And that was semi-true in the sense that we had rice and beans and plantains. But sorry to my Central American friends, I like Haiti's versions way better. (For real, I had the best fried plantains of my life in Haiti and generally, I am not a fan of those).

I digress. This post is about mamba. Mamba number 5.

Peanuts are very important to Haiti in many ways. They are a cheap source of protein but more importantly they can easily be grown in Haitian soil and in dry conditions, (which is a really good thing because all the deforestation that has happened in Haiti has made large sections of rural areas into dessert like climates).

 Peanuts are also political.

Several months ago, the U.S. tried to "dump" a shipment of peanuts to Haiti under the banner of "feeding starving Haitian children." Many NGO's in Haiti (including MCC) spoke up to say, hey! This actually is not a good thing, which, on the surface, makes the American audience super confused. Why don't people what to give extra food to hungry kids? That seems like a no brainier. But the roots of this are a little bit deeper and this is not the first time the U.S. has pulled this kind of trick. Yes, I say and I mean trick. Back in in 90s, the U.S. dumped a ton of rice in Haiti and completely ruined the local rice economy, which still has not recovered. When this happened, many rural Haitian farmers were out of luck and thus moved to Port-au-Prince to find work. This was one of the reasons why there were so many people living literally on top of each other when the 2010 earthquake struck, killing thousands.

And let's not pretend the USDA doesn't have their own agenda with this boat load of peanuts. Because of the 2014 Farm Bill that encouraged U.S. farmers to grow more peanuts, the USDA got stuck with a ton of extra peanuts and instead of letting the market in the U.S. get saturated, why not send them to the "needy" elsewhere.

But how can a Haitian farmer up in the rural mountain community of Kabay compete with free? She can't. No one can. So why immediate hungry might be met, dumping peanuts does not improve food security at all. In fact, it's like a giant leap backwards.
It gets even more complicated when someone from the USAID (a U.S. Agency for International development with a large presence in Haiti) tweeted that they were against bringing in U.S. peanuts to Haiti. (Although as a larger organization they fail to comment on this). Organizations, including our own government, know this is not a good idea. The MCC reps we spent time with in Haiti told us how they are a part of an NGO network which spoke activity against the U.S. peanuts. But even NGOs who knew this was not a good idea had to pull their name from this statement because of parts of their funding wrapped up with the U.S. government.

See? This isn't just about a boat load of peanuts.

It's a story about mamba for breakfast and a woman named Maksiane Piarre who grows peanuts up in the mountains of Kabay, an area so remote that one must use a donkey (or a land rover) to get up there. (It takes the locals hours to walk to Desarmes, the larger community where they can sell their goods).
Maksiane Piarre stands in her peanut field

Kabay is a considered a "red zone." Members of this community survive day-to-day. Most do not have access to any kind of latrine. It is hot and it it humid. (We are in the Caribbean after all). And just 6 short years ago this community was like a dessert.

But that is changing, thanks to MCC's Agro-forestry projects. There are trees again. And there are peanuts. And where there are peanuts, there is hope.
This is Elisamar Michelet who works for MCC as an Agro-forestry technician in Kabay
This "patch of green" is actually an agro-forest. Meaning, it is a garden and a reforestation project. Because food security is such an issue these projects must be able to feed and provide income to farmers, not just reforest the land. The gardens are designed so that there is always something to eat. Notice how bare the land is around it. That was how this entire area was just 6 years ago. 
All of these things were spinning in my head this morning as I hate my peanut butter toast. It's a crazy world we live in where even peanut butter is political and mamba can change the world.