Saturday, April 18, 2015

DRINK & THRIVE: Negotiating the Path to a Fair and Equitable Coffee Value Chain for Haiti

The key to effective change is knowledge that helps people
build choices into their lives and the opportunity to develop
the self confidence to make those choices come to fruition.
That's empowerment.
On any given day the adventure of rebuilding the Haitian coffee industry can be great or seriously stressful. Haiti is full of challenges, yet also full of hope.  When I see the results of decades of charity and the lack of access to basic knowledge, I am chilled at how few choices exist in the average Haitian family’s life. How isolating and paralyzing that can be when viewed from a global perspective. It takes great courage for Haitians to venture off their island and overcome their fears of ignorance, but someone must travel where hope lives, where choices live, unless we can open the door of knowledge to them, in Haiti.
Makouti and Farmer to Farmer volunteers bringing knowledge 
I am excited by the current move to invest in income generating agriculture in Haiti.  As I sit and talk with farmers, I am hopeful.  Working with Makouti Agro Entreprise has given them choices in their lives.  Choices that allow them to feed their families and put their children in school. Makouti and Farmer to Farmer are also walking hand in hand with these Haitian farmers; working side by side to help Haitians find their confidence and regain their farming heritage that once made their country rich and renown.

Makouti walking members from 4 cooperatives through a meeting
 with SOGESOL looking at loan requirements

But is it enough when we all live in a world governed by stock markets and large corporations that decide fates based only on their profits. Coffee is a world traded commodity whose pricing is announced daily and based on supply and demand for a handful of companies and large traders. Speculators, tell stories to juggle the market through an illusion of predictions that are often thrown out the window by Mother Nature. Farmers are always forced to predict the future.  Deciding when and what to plant based on instincts learned and passed down through the generations.  Mother Nature can be fickle and even brutal but farmers have learned to understand her.  Stock quotes and speculators are much harder to intuit for people with little schooling and no internet. These purchase prices are even less meaningful when they have no correlation to the costs of production faced by farmers who grow the products, especially the small farmers. It is easy to bias a supply and demand system when the suppliers are uneducated and cannot negotiate with facts in hand. The end result is that we are currently in a global coffee farmer crisis.  

At SCAA, I was saddened to hear so many farmers from countries around the world express their fears; talking of starving families that once thrived on coffee production; young people abandoning the farms because they do not want to be stuck in lives of poverty; dying coffee trees because the farmers can no longer afford to care for the trees; trees dying of diseases because solutions weren’t important enough for adequate research dollars to be devoted to the largest consumable commodity in the world. WHY?
Now the time has come to pay the true cost of all that inexpensive coffee we guzzled with glee. Cost of production studies are being done and must be done in every coffee producing country.  We need to give up on the one price fits all.
Children growing up in the once productive Haitian mountains
 are now very vulnerable due to loss of infrastructure
 and collapse of the coffee industry in the 1980's
 Even the minimum price floor of fairtrade is reinforcing poverty because it gives consumers a false sense of security and buyers use it as leverage. Certification programs, like fairtrade and organic, reinforce poverty as they cost the producers thousands of dollars yet benefit only the roaster and retailer who get the lion’s share of the end profits.  Farmers gross pennies per cup and often that isn't even their profit. It’s a loss that reaches to the heart of the bellies of their families. There is no time like the present to talk about the exploitation of coffee farmers. History repeats itself unless we create the change we want to see in the world. A walk through Facebook shows people fighting for $15.00 PER HOUR wages and garnering worldwide support. 
Women hand  sorting coffee beans in Dondon Haiti
Open dialog worldwide is the best way to educate and help everyone thrive. This is an important issue especially when you see that in Haiti the minimum wage is less than $5.00 PER DAY for the factory worker who is making your tablets and undergarments. We aren't born knowing what caused all this nor how to fix it but the internet is making us all aware of the disparity between the 1%ers, those in the middle and the 2 Billion who live in poverty, many of whom are coffee farmers and laborers.

We need to reach out globally, teach the young and the old. Knowledge overshadows fear and ignorance, keeping manipulation at bay. If we keep demanding higher minimum wages without changing the high end wages, we may be able to pay for coffee drinks at every street corner, but are we thinking about the lives of those that picked the beans. Are we really getting what we want? How long before coffee farmer quit coffee and produce something more profitable? Can we look in the mirror and see the end of poverty and hunger? Or will we see the end of coffee?.  How can we all afford to Drink and Thrive? 
Tourism in Haiti is opening up new opportunities for
 Haitians to earn incomes and for foreigners to
experience history and change.

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