Give Haitian Coffee (and Farmers) a Chance
By Bryan Schaaf on Thursday, October 6, 2011.
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Like Haitians themselves, coffee has African roots. Throughout much of its colonial and post-colonial history, coffee was a major export and source of livelihoods. However, mismanagement, deforestation, natural disasters, political instability, and embargos have resulted in a dramatic decrease Haitian coffee exports. Yet, Haitian coffee is good - unusually good. Can Haiti revive and expand its coffee industry? Just Haiti and Singing Rooster are two organizations that believe it can. Buying from either of these organizations is a great way to support both your coffee habit and Haitian farmers.
Brazil and Colombia are probably the first names that come to mine when you think of coffee in the Western Hemisphere. However, coffee afficianados who have had Haitian coffee often find it to be distinctive as articles in Esquire and the Wall Street Journal can attest. Another good article about Haitian coffee in general appears in The Atlantic. While Haiti may never again be competitive in terms of the quantity of its exports, it can still compete on quality. Plus, it has the advantage of being close to the United States, which consumes more coffee than any other country in the world and has a large Haitian Diaspora.
Fair trade coffee, purchased directly from the growers for a higher price than standard coffee, can particularly benefit Haiti by providing greater economic incentives to coffee producers. While smaller coffee shops and corporations have long championed Fair Trade coffee, it is becoming increasingly available through large chains. Fair Trade coffee can be purchased, to differing degrees, from Wal Mart, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Sam’s Club and other major chains.
There are numerous, small peasant cooperatives throughout Haiti growing coffee for domestic consumption. In a country where deforestation continues unabated, coffee can be part of better environmental management. Growing coffee without shade, as in Brazil, requires massive quantities of chemicals. In Haiti, coffee is farmed organically and thus requires shade. This creates an economic incentive to not cut down trees as coffee is worth more than charcoal. Other crops can be grown along with coffee. Coffee pulp makes good compost for them. Shade trees create much needed habitat for birds and other wildlife.
With the right economic incentives and access to markets, some peasant associations have the potential to grow. Just Haiti was formed in 2007 to help an association of coffee growers in Baradères (Kafe Devlopman Baradè) do just that. The coffee that the association produces is shipped and labeled as Kafe Lespwa (Coffee of Hope). They plant, weed, harvest and process the crop by hand. The ultimate goal is for the KDB to own and operate the entire business, including roasting and marketing. Through rotating loans from Just Haiti, the association purchased two depulping machines and built the first two of four planned sites for processing and drying harvested coffee cherries. They began using these sites to process the harvest in the late summer of 2010. As the association repays the loans, Just Haiti uses the money to make new loans for other small business projects. In November 2008, the community exported its first commercially shipped supply of coffee to Baltimore. Baltimore Coffee and Tea, with stores in Timonium, Frederick, and Annapolis, is their roaster in Maryland. In addition to roasting Kafe Lespwa, Baltimore Coffee & Tea will be buying coffee produced by the growers in Baradères, Haiti, and selling it in their stores and processing internet orders. You can buy Kafe Lespwa from Baltimore Coffee and Tea or through the Just Haiti website.
Singing Rooster, also a non profit organization, provides direct assistance to coffee farming communities in Haiti. Singing Rooster cultivates and processes high quality Haitian coffee while also seeking new markets for it. One hundred percent of its proceeds go back to the communities it works with to support coffee and fruit tree nurseries, land management and coffee waste training, coffee harvesting/processing/transport, and promotion of community gardens, mushroom growing, and beekeeping. Concerning the latter, bees help pollenate coffee trees and provide honey that can be sold locally. Take a look at an article in Common Breath Media about Singing Rooster. You can buy either whole bean or ground coffee on their website. If you are a non profit, click here to learn how you can use their coffee to support your fundraising activities.
When I think of Haitian food and drink, I think of pumpkin soup, rice and beans, rum, fresh juices, and of course coffee. If you are a coffee drinker, purchasing Haitian coffee online has never been easier. Buying through either Just Haiti or Singing Rooster is an easy to way to support agriculture and much needed rural livelihoods. Perhaps Haitian coffee will yet be part of an agricultural rennaisance in Haiti. Haitian coffee fan? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section.
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