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As aid to Haiti slows, a private coffee co-op scores loans and turns heads

COOPCAB, a Haitian coffee co-op that now includes 5,000 members, markets its products internationally while investing money in local reforestation efforts.

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Perhaps it is this emphasis on training that has made COOPCAB more successful than similar efforts. Critics complain that Haitian farmers focus too heavily on short-term projects, preventing long-term success. They point to the Federation des Associations Cafetieres Natives, a coffee co-op that received $10 million in investment but failed to produce sustainable profits. The brand now exists on paper only.

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Government bureaucracy and outdated farming methods also stand between Haitians and their success. There is the story of Steeve Khawly, a rice importer who tried to bring commercial rice milling to Haiti. Because Haitian farming is less efficient than modern practices in developed countries, local farms did not produce enough local rice to make Khawly's effort profitable, so he packed up his mill and sent it back to Guyana.

He still believes that rice production in Haiti could exceed 160,000 tons per season if agricultural practices were modernized, but this would require large inflows of capital and the strengthening of supply chains. However, when commercial producers Riceland Foods tried to move production to Haiti, they ran up against impenetrable red tape, foreign policy reports, and eventually gave up.

There are signs of hope, however. Soon, Haitian entrepreneurs may find new opportunities to replicate COOPCAB’s model, as Ambassador Altidor has asked Foote to help advise formal policy decisions. Haitian minister of agriculture Thomas Jacques also plans to create a rice commission focused on increasing domestic production through the creation of "technology packages” for farmers.

Without further access to capital and a government that simplifies the investment process, agriculture in Haiti can’t succeed. However, to transform Haiti from an aid-dependent economy to a market-driven one, startups also need to have good business sense. COOPCAB’s emphasis on training producers to be businessmen and letting local Haitians take the lead points to a model that other startups and social enterprises could emulate.

• Learn more about COOPCAB at its website.

This article originally appeared at Global Envision, a blog published by Mercy Corps.

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