Although small in the face of South America’s giants, Haiti is slowly developing its cocoa industry, earning better incomes for thousands of farmers and refuting the stereotype that culinary art is the preserve of wealthy countries.
Haiti’s annual production of 5,000 tons of cocoa pales in comparison to the 70,000 tons produced per year by neighboring Dominican Republic, but the sector’s development is recent in the island nation.
Feccano, a federation of cocoa cooperatives in northern Haiti, became the first group to organize exchanges in 2001 by prioritizing farmers’ profits.
“Before, there was the systematic destruction of cocoa trees because the market price wasn’t interesting for farmers who preferred very short-cycle crops,” said Guito Gilot, Feccano’s commercial director.
The cooperative now works with more than 4,000 farmers in northern Haiti.
By fermenting its members’ beans before export, Feccano has been able to target the market for fine and aromatic cocoa.
“Feccano’s customers pay for quality: They don’t have the New York Stock Exchange as a reference,” said Gilot.
Smelling potential, Haiti’s private sector finally began investing in the cocoa industry, which until then had been supported solely by non-governmental organizations and humanitarian efforts.
By setting up its fermentation setter in 2014 in Acul-du-Nord, 15 km from Haiti’s second city Cap-Haitien, the company Produit des iles (PISA) entered the market. But the logistical challenges are many.
“The producers we work with farm less than a hectare, often divided into several plots whereas, in Latin America, a small producer already owns four or five hectares,” explained Aline Etlicher, who developed the industry at PISA.
“We buy fresh cocoa, the same day as the harvest so the farmer no longer has the problems of drying and storing that they would have if they sold it to an intermediary,” said the French agronomist.
In recent months, this just-in-time bean collection from all sites has been more challenging because many roads were regularly blocked due to socio-political unrest.
Maintaining organic and fair trade certifications for the cocoa is delicate, but the Haitian style has made its mark abroad.
“Today there are bars sold in the United States that are called Acul-du-Nord,” Etlicher said proudly.
“With our customers, we are part of the ‘bean to bar’ movement of chocolate makers who transform the cocoa bean into the chocolate bar,” she said, adding that by cutting out the middleman, Haitian producers’ revenues have doubled.
And on the other end of the chain, bean processing remains local.
Posted Jan. 3, 2021