This article was originally written by Partners of the Americas.
Haiti is re-emerging on the international coffee scene and is being led by some innovative and forward-thinking coffee producers. These producers are not just growing and selling great coffee, but they are reforesting the country and developing rural enterprise as they go.
Political instability and failed development efforts are part of the story of Haiti’s decline on the international coffee market. But that did not stop Makouti Agro Enterprise from working as a backbone organization to fill the gaps and reboot the coffee industry. Makouti, a local Haitian-led host organization and partner organization of the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program, has been working with producers in northern Haiti and one of their coffee field technicians was Jean Jacques (Jacquelin) Lucas. Jacquelin, who has over fifteen years of experience as an expert producer, along with Benito Jasmin, Makouti founder and F2F country coordinator, had the vision to create a coffee cooperative that would leverage the strengths of many smaller producers toward a fully-functioning rural enterprise.
Jacquelin believes, “Each producer has his own strengths…. it might be high elevation coffee, or a lower-humid place for drying… together we can take care of all our needs.”
Out of this vision grew the Association des Travailleurs de Dondon (ATD), a thriving, young, coffee cooperative that is leading the charge in this region’s resurgence. As they head into their third harvest season, founding director Jacquelin Lucas takes time to reflect on where they’ve been and where they are going:
“It first starts with Myriam [Kaplan-Pasternak], a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, who helped us see that it was not a waste of time to focus on increasing the value of Haitian coffee. She’s been involved with many aspects of our business, from seedling production to processing to cupping. There are not enough words to describe Myriam’s influence on our effort and success.”
Myriam, who owns and operates Haiti Coffee Inc. (a US-based export/import company), has been a key influence in the launch and ongoing development of ATD. Myriam had been working with Jacquelin in his role as a field technician for Makouti and supported him in the creation of the cooperative. In the beginning, Jacquelin needed to educate the producers on quality standards for the international market. Thanks to F2F and volunteers like Myriam, he was able to teach other producers how to assess and meet quality standards at every step of the process. In addition to providing training and technical assistance, Myriam, through her role with Haiti Coffee, invested financially and emotionally in the success of the effort. Under Myriam's leadership, Haiti Coffee also implemented a small grant under Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA)'s Special Program Support Project (SPSP) from 2014-2015, assisting the ATD Cooperative and other farms in Haiti.
Today ATD is successfully competing in the international market. They have a contract with Haiti Coffee for the US market and are in negotiations with Vasco International, a Chinese company and potential buyer. Part of what has led to ATD’s rapid success has been the way they do business. They are singularly focused on quality and quality improvement as a core operating value. They apply a ‘quality lens’ at each point on the value chain and provide services to help their producers. For example, when producers bring their cherries (green beans) to sell, ATD does an initial sort on quality. They have visual tools to help educate producers about standards. They’ll pay 40-50% upfront to help bridge costs, and have other services such as de-pulping, drying and marketing, in addition to this credit function. Within the past two years, ATD has gone from 80,160 Haitian Gourdes ($1,781) in gross sales to 850,000 Haitian Gourdes ($13,077), and their coffee, is now consistently ranked 82 on the international ranking system. Dramatic improvements in quality bode well for the future. On the gender and environmental fronts, of its 200 members, 80 are women, and in 2015 their nursery had 14,000 seedlings of coffee and 5,000 seedlings of cacao.
When asked what has contributed to ATD’s success, Jacquelin said it works like a family; everyone works together. To be a member of ATD, there are rules that producers must agree to: they must agree to be trained by the cooperative, and must live in the community. Other values are reflected in their vision which focus on well-being of community, environment and of course superior quality coffee. Since inception, ATD has been supported by seven F2F volunteers, each building on the work of the previous volunteers.
On reflecting to the future, Jacquelin’s focus on quality shines through:
“There are several areas we need to improve on but the ultimate goal is getting to “gold”…the d’Oro status of a 90 score or higher on the international market. But even if we arrive there, we can still improve.”