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The deterioration of the Haitian coffee industry.

If coffee growers in the Dominican Republic are nervous, their counterparts across the border in Haiti are in absolute desperation. Low world prices are only part of the problem in Haiti, where an international embargo against the country has destroyed its already shaky economy.

On September 30, 1991, democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a military coup. A month later, the Organization of American States slapped a trade embargo against Haiti. Sixteen months later, Aristide remains in exile, while life in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation gets worse and worse.

Haiti's overall exports have already been severely hurt by the embargo. In 1990, Haiti's total exports amounted to just under $343 million. That dropped to $285 million in 1991, according to a United Nations Development Program(UNDP) report published last September, and only $62.5 million during the first eight months of 1992.

One of the hardest-hit export sectors was coffee, whose woes had little to do with the embargo. The bulk of Haitian coffee always has been exported to France and Italy--neither of which are involved in the OAS embargo--and as recently as 1980, coffee represented nearly $100 million in Haitian exports, UNDP figures show.

But the falling apart of the International Coffee Organization in 1989, plus the aging of Haiti's coffee trees and the failure of small growers to replace those trees, has depressed Haitian coffee exports enormously, so that the 1991 total was only around $18 million.

According to the OAS, coffee has traditionally provided direct and indirect employment to 2.4 million Haitians; a total of 135,000 hectares are planted by 250,000 small and middle-scale growers, and the annual harvest is around 35,000 metric tons, or about 250-300 kilos per hectare. But a variety of factors--some of them having little to do with politics-has helped to destroy Haiti's coffee industry: poor technology, micro-fragmentation of land holdings, bad roads and, since 1987, the spreading of coffee rust (Hemileia vastatrix), a fungal disease that threatens to wipe out every coffee tree in Haiti.

In 1990, a year before the coup, the OAS launched a pilot project through its Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (11CA) to reverse the Haitian coffee industry's slide. Right up until September 30, 1991, the project-- funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development--was working to improve productivity and fight coffee rust. Among its activities was the introduction of rust-resistant coffee varieties grown in nurseries, which were run by 2,500 peasants in 203 groups of small growers throughout the country.

After the coup, the OAS was forced to suspend its project. If conditions don't improve, warn some politicians, many of Haiti's coffee growers could soon be on rickety wooden boats heading for Florida.
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Author:Luxner, Larry
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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