Bringing Haiti’s Coffee to Market

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Above: a Cocano office in La Croix, Haiti (Photo: Cafe Cocano)

By Alexander Britell

While Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee has grown in international prominence in recent years, Haiti is actually one of the region’s oldest coffee-producing countries.

The difficulty has traditionally been finding a way to bring Haiti’s coffee to the world market, along with making sure local growers benefit appropriately from their production.

But thanks to a partnership with Saint Thomas University, local farmers in Port-de-Paix in Haiti’s Nord-Ouest department are getting help in bringing Haiti’s coffee to the global market.

The Cafe COCANO Fair-Trade Coffee Project is a partnership between Saint Thomas’ Centre for Peace and Justice, the Cafeiere et Cacouyere du Nord’Ouest Coffee Cooperative and Italian coffee roaster Pascucci Torrefazione. (The CPJ’s other work in Haiti includes a similar partnership with artisans in Haiti’s Northwest, along with a burgeoning solar energy project.)

Now in its fifth year, the programme seeks to eliminate the middle men in Haiti’s coffee trade and bring coffee directly from Haitian farmers to American and European mugs. And helping with the importing and distribution are Saint Thomas’ business and marketing students.

“The university looks at how its teaching resources and research resources can support long-term social and economic development in Haiti’s Northwest,” said Anthony Vinciguerra, coordinator at the CPJ.

Saint Thomas, a Catholic university, is the sister diocese of Port-de-Paix.

In addition to Pascucci Torrefazione, Miami-based Panther Coffee is also roasting coffee for the programme, which, Vinciguerra said had led to a 400 percent increase in profits for the local Haitian farmers.

Over the last three years, Vinciguerra said the programme had helped export 120,000 pounds of Haitian coffee abroad, with exports rising by about 30 percent each year.

Under those arrangements, profits would be split among brokers and others, with the farmers ultimately receiving just 65 cents per pound.

Now, the farmers are reportedly earning over $4 per pound.

“These farmers had exported [before], but only to traditional speculator models,” said Vinciguerra. “In this direct trade process, it’s the farmers that get the profits. “The difference is enormous,” he said.

The demand for Haitian coffee seems to have been on the upswing in recent years, as Haiti has sought to grow the sector, which, only 20 years ago, was the country’s primary agricultural sector.

According to the IDB, Haiti’s coffee exports dropped from 191,000 bags in 1990 to just 16,000 bags in 2009.

That’s beginning to change, although recent storms in the country dealt a serious setback to Haiti’s agricultural sector.

And in July, Nestle announced a partnership with the IDB to provide advice and technical assitance to the country’s coffee farmers.

“We’ve been trying to reach out to supermarkets interested in Haitian coffee — we’ve been selling a lot through word of mouth,” he said. “It’s hard to find Haitian coffee in the United States. But it’s exciting — and it’s growing.”