To Save a People. . .
1987: Presidential End Hunger Award

Unedited News Release from the
United States Agency of International Development,
Washington, DC, October 15, 1987

Photography by JEAN-PIERRE HALLET

Citation: "For the founding of The Pygmy Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the Pygmies' lives and culture by helping them to achieve self-reliance."


Background: The Pygmy Fund, founded in 1974, and its dynamic founder, Jean-Pierre Hallet, have saved the Efé Pygmies of the Ituri forest in Zaïre from extinction. The fate of the Pygmies of Zaïre became bleak, after independence from Belgium. The number of Efé Pygmies had dropped from 35,000 in 1930 to 3,800. Today as a result of the hard work of Hallet and the Fund, there are more than 5,000 Efé Pygmies remaining in the Eastern Ituri Rain Forest.

Most important, the Zairian government has not only recognized the Pygmies and the work done by The Pygmy Fund, but even accepted Hallet's appelation of the Pygmies as "First Citizens," i.e. the earliest human inhabitants of the territory that is now Zaire.

Jean-Pierre Hallet spent much of his youth in northeastern Zaire and remained interested in the region as an adult. An agronomist and sociologist of Belgian birth and education, Hallet befriended and studied the Ituri Forest Pygmies, eventually coming to the conclusion that, over the years, they had been forced to modify their traditional hunting and gathering mode of life and had become a basically sedentary people. To survive, they would have to become, once again actively self-reliant, especially in food production.

Hallet concentrated much of his efforts on improving the Pygmies' agriculture and increasing their food production. By 1979, he had successfully introduced the soy bean into the Pygmy agrarian system. This quickly increased the food supply and consequently reduced the death rate of the older Pygmies, who traditionally eat last after the younger generations. The result was the first increase in the Pygmy population in one hundred years, which reached almost 4,000.

The greatest stride came through the introduction and succesful testing in 1981 of the little known winged bean, native to New Guinea. Currently, this plant is grown more successfully and extensively in the Ituri Forest than anywhere else besides New Guinea. In addition, due to the achievements of The Pygmy Fund, the winged bean has also been introduced to 35,000 neighboring non-Pygmy people. Hallet acheived this result under the most adverse circumstances imaginable. These included problems of accessibility, a 1981 Cholera epidemic, appearance of a new malarial strain which caused 25 Pygmy deaths in 1983, two El Nino-related droughts, and several exceptionally violent thunder and hail storms.

The rapidity of this success in three years should be noted since successfully introducing a new subsistence crop into the economy of an ancient culture, in which tastes have been "set" for ages, is a monumental challenge. Nowhere else to date has this been accomplished for the winged bean, which nevertheless is now bound to spread to other parts of Africa.

Awards and Honors: An immigrant to the United States in 1960, Jean-Pierre Hallet was educated at the University of Brussels (1945-1946) and at the Sorbonne (1947-1948). Hallet has been recognized both nationally and internationally for his work as an explorer, sociologist, naturalist, author and lecturer. During his illustrious career, he has received over 100 awards and honors. He is the author of Congo Kitabu, Animal Kitabu and Pygmy Kitabu. Hallet has been featured in Sepia magazine in an article titled "The Abe Lincoln of the Congo," as one of 20 Men of Courage, and in Great Survival Adventures.



Top of the Page 1960:
Only 3,800 Surviving
1972: Documentary Film
"The Little Giants"
Pygmy
Philosophy
1987:
Presidential End Hunger Award
Poem: "People of Love" The Eighteen Sins of Man Contributions to
The Pygmy Fund