When a tiny Quebec chocolate maker won a gold prize at this year’s premier International Chocolate Awards for a bar made with Haitian cocoa beans, it rocked the specialty chocolate world. The cocoa beans had been on the market for less than a year, and a Haitian chocolate bar had never before received the award.
Haiti produces less than 1 percent of the world’s cocoa. But today, cocoa industry players are aiming to put the Caribbean nation on the craft quality chocolate map, while providing some of the world’s poorest farmers with a better life and stemming the forces that have left Haiti a near moonscape. Stunningly 98 percent deforested, Haiti is an environmental mess, vulnerable to devastating floods and mudslides.
Efforts to connect poor cocoa farmers in Haiti to consumers willing to pay upwards of US$8 for a single chocolate bar are part of a much broader movement within the development community to combat global poverty and protect natural resources through access to such specialty markets.
But can these efforts make a difference in tackling some of the key drivers of environmental degradation? And can they do it at a scale that actually transforms struggling rural economies?
Grinding poverty is a root cause for Haiti’s deforestation. Per capita income was just US$828 in 2015, and two-thirds of Haitians are subsistence farmers. The vast majority cook their food with wood charcoal. Charcoal production fuels deforestation, which leads to soil erosion, loss of productive agricultural land and a vicious cycle of poverty.
An estimated 50 percent of Haitian topsoil has washed away, destroying Haiti’s farmland and contributing to crop losses that reached 70 percent in some places in the face of extreme drought this year.
Cocoa is a tree crop that grows well in agroforestry systems, which is why Ralph Denize of FOMIN (Multilateral Investment Fund) says, “Cocoa is one of the best crops you can use for reforesting the country.”
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