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Coffee: a stepping stone for Haiti?

 L'Itinéraire (Canada) 27 June 2019

Once one of the main contributors to the Haitian economy, coffee farming has been in decline for the last twenty years. Introduced to Haiti in the 18th century, coffee could well become a major player in the reconstruction of the country after the tragic 2010 earthquake. (524 Words) - By Camille Gaoir


l'itineraire_cafe Haiti

Un agriculteur plonge sa main dans une récole de «cerises de café», les fruits du caféier étant appelés ainsi. Photo: REUTERS/Y.T. Haryono

At the beginning of the 20th century, close to 500,000 bags of coffee were produced in Haiti annually. Today that number is down to just 350,000, according to National Coffee Institute of Haiti.

"After the fall of [the former president] Jean-Claude Duvalier, manufacturers focussed on importing products into Haiti and abandoned us," says Frito Merisier, producer and coordinator of the Plateforme Nationale des Producteurs de Café d'Haïti (National Platform of Coffee Producers in Haiti - PNPCH).

Today, 200,000 families make a living from coffee - that's nearly one million people. "Haiti has a population of more than nine million. That means one person in nine making a living from coffee; it's an industry that we should be developing," says Kerlande Mibel, president of the Junior Chamber of Haitian Commerce in Montreal.

This is a view shared by Stephan Jean-Pierre, founder and president of Cafés Terrebonne: "As well as making a living for whole families, the export of coffee generates foreign trade and creates jobs in rural areas."

Key players

After the departure of industrial producers, persuaded by the wealth gained from their product, a cooperative was quickly formed. "We have created the PNPCH to promote coffee and defend the rights of producers," says Mr Merisier. Founded 12 years ago, the Platform now includes 38,000 members.

It's a unique union but still has its limits, according to Mr Jean-Pierre, a coffee importer. "It's essential to develop associated cropping models in order to allow producers to have fixed incomes. It's a job of management, not production," says the man of Haitian origin.

Coffee is harvested every five years, but its production can easily be combined with other more profitable land crops. "This strategy will be achieved through a partnership between the private sector and local workers," says the former director of the Federation of Native Coffee Farmers in Haiti.

After the earthquake

Even though the 2010 earthquake spared the countryside, coffee producers have all the same been affected by the disaster. "Everything is done in Port-au-Prince," explains Frito Merisier. "Education, health and especially business." The events of 12 January completely paralysed the country's already fragile economy.

Could this tragedy be transformed into an opportunity? Kerlande Mibel thinks so. "Since the earthquake, Haiti has benefited from a certain degree of sympathy; it is necessary to take advantage of this and to do great things for our country. We can rely on coffee and turn it into our ambassador product," she says.

As well as its important economic role, the production of coffee has a significant positive environmental impact. "Coffee needs shade in order to grow," explains Stephan Jean-Pierre. "Developing land like this would allow reforestation in part of the territory." This is a strong argument, since now only 2% of Haiti is covered with forestation, half of which is occupied by coffee crops.


Translated by Lindsay Cochrane

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