Haiti tries to rebuild with coffee exports

Haiti packaged coffee

January 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
One year ago today, a massive earthquake devastated Haiti. A quarter of a million people were killed and countless more left homeless. The recovery effort still has a long way to go. With the help of people all over the world, the Haitian people are working to create more sustainable livelihoods. There is even a Bay Area effort to help coffee farmers.

In the late 1700s Haiti supplied half of the world's coffee. Today farmers there would like to find their way back into the market.

"People in Haiti started telling me, 'Yeah, yeah, we have a lot of coffee and know about how coffee grows, but we don't know how to sell it to the United States,'" says Myriam Kaplan-Pasternak, a Marin County farmer.

Kaplan-Pasternak knows Haiti well. She works with the Partners of the America's Farmer to Farmer program. With the help of the owner of Mojay's Cafe in San Rafael, she's trying to build the market in the U.S. Yves Goudet is also involved. He owns Haiti coffee company in Santa Rosa.

"Coffee is their number one crop. So they would like to sell the coffee, they would like to be able to sell the coffee and then with the coffee, they can raise their kids. To make it short, they want a good price for their coffee," says Goudet.

In the past six months they have worked with farmers in the north of the country.

"Some areas didn't know how to process it to the quality that is expected here in the U.S., so we've been educating them to improve quality," says Kaplan-Pasternak.

That's been Goudet's job. Now they import small amounts of green unroasted beans which are then processed in Northern California and sold at the cafe.

Haitian farmers know coffee is very much in demand in the world. It is the second largest commodity after oil, so the potential is huge, as long as Haiti is able to maintain some kind of political stability.

Also helping farmers is Michelle Lacourciere of Pacifica. She operates a non-profit called the Sirona Cares Foundation. She's teaching Haitians about the jatropha plant. The oil extracted from its seed can be used as biofuel.

"You can literally crush a seed. The seed is 40 percent oil. You put the oil directly in a generator and it will run," says Lacourciere.

It's helping farmers become more sustainable.

"This is not a generation married to the way it was. It is a generation that wants things to be different. They are well aware of what the outside world looks like and they know they need to catch up," says Lacourciere.