Our neighbors in the Caribbean are wrestling with a gamble regarding coffee. On the one hand, it grows well there and farmers need crops, and on the other, the years required before planting and harvesting are still years in which farmers need income. Jacqueline Charles has written on this quandary this week. The coffee industry in Haiti once flourished but the former low prices for the crop, compared to that of charcoal from trees, made the trees the crop of choice. So, many trees were chopped down and coffee plants lost.
Now that prices are rising with growing coffee demand, the country is looking at coffee as the answer for poverty in the small earthquake-damaged nation. Subsidies, in the form of foreign aid, provided money for replanting, but the question remains whether or not these crops will pay for themselves once the funding runs out. There are reports of success, as coffee plants are growing among shade trees in the lush mountainous southeast, where the crops are growing even in backyards of many Haitians.
New global markets such as Italy and Japan are paying top dollar for the sun-dried beans, and the farmers are starting to see the value in increasing production. The main problem is, Haitian farmers need to see this in a long-term vision, because, though they see the cash value of the crop, they are day-to-day survivors. To wait four or five years before the crops are harvest-able is not in their frame of reference. The shade trees are always a quick cash return, which they can’t cut down if they want to succeed with coffee. Another problem is the smuggling of coffee to the neighboring Dominican Republic, which doesn’t bring in near the profit. Again, this is quick cash, and the farmers haven’t learned the value of patience.
An interesting aspect of the Haitian coffee farming scene is the novel role played by American college students. As part of their class assignments, the South Florida University students are assisting with supporting roles - from social media and marketing to searching out new export markets.