The New Economics of Haitian Chocolate

Haitian flagMuch has been made of the dire economic situation of Haiti, and its continued degradation especially following the devastating 2010 earthquake. During and even before French colonization, Haiti’s economy has been based on agriculture; today manufacturing is the broader basis of the economy in terms of exports, and Haiti’s main export is been clothing. However, a new possible economic driver is on the horizon: chocolate.  NPR recently reported on the presence of unique “mother / maman” Haitian cacao trees, which can produce more and better cacao pods than normal trees. Though these trees are not necessarily unique to Haiti, they are plentiful here, and are an untapped resource, sometimes producing twenty times the pods of normal trees.

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Ripe Cacao Pods in Haiti by Nick Hobgood

Though around 60% of Haitians work in agriculture, the cacao market in Haiti has not been a primary economic driver in recent years (though it was exploited by colonial traders in the past). Even though cacao may only be a relatively small business in Haiti, there is major opportunity. As the global taste for chocolate grows, the demand for high quality chocolate products (even at a high prices) is there. One important potential stumbling block: even though the cacao produced from Criollo varietal trees in Haiti is of high-quality, it is often not fermented post-picking, which is considered an essential step in high-quality chocolate production. Consequently, unfermented Haitian cacao beans are often sold for much less than competitors.

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A display of export-quality Cacao Beans at a fair by Nick Hobgood

So what are the next steps to realizing this cacao dream? Unlike many other food industries, cacao is still produced in overwhelming majority by small family farms, a model which will continue in Haiti. One collective, SOGEPA (Societe Genérale de Production Agroindustrielle, “General Society of Agro-Industrial Production”), a cacao exporter that represents 450 family cacao farms in Haiti, was given a grant by LEAD (Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investment Project –  funded by USAID) post-earthquake to establish distribution and sales channels for the farmers in the collective. US Aid has also developed a program to help train Haitian farmers in effective cacao-raising techniques. FECCANO, a collective of cacao producers in northern Haiti has also been established. Slowly, artisinal Haitian chocolate is even being made available outside of the country. On such brand, the French Fair Trade label Ethiquable, boasts a “Grand Cru” Haitian chocolate bar. Currently Haitian chocolate does not enjoy the same cache as a French or Belgian label, but that could soon change.

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