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FEATURE STORY September 13, 2018

Chocolate “Made in Haiti”

Like every morning Ernise drops her children to school and makes a beeline for the workshop owned by the Association of Valiant Women of Limonade (RAFAVAL) in the Limonade town center in the Nord department of Haiti. This woman is going to meet up with other members of her association to transform local cocoa into chocolate. The organization operates in the agribusiness sector and offers products derived from cocoa grown in the area to a large and diverse public.

For the members of RAFAVAL, the day begins at 4 a.m. in their respective homes. Then they return to their organization’s workshop to prepare the first sales of the day. From 6 a.m., set up in front of the University of Limonade campus, they sell cups of hot chocolate and other chocolate-based products to workers, university students, school children, laborers, and business owners.

To harvest the cocoa, Ernise and other colleagues go to the agricultural zone surrounding the town of Limonade, a particularly fertile region of the country. Crops such as corn, beans, bananas, tubers, and cocoa provide a source of income in this region, which is undergoing rapid population growth. However, limited access to markets as well as the challenge of adding value to agricultural products continue to seriously constrain the development of agricultural value chains.

“This is what inspired us to establish the RAFAVAL organization,” recalls Ernise Petigny, a founding member of the organization. She continues: “When we launched this venture in 2002, it was very difficult for us. We had very limited resources, but bit by bit we systematically reinvested the proceeds until we were finally able to purchase our land and build the first warehouse as our premises.”

With help from the Strengthening Agriculture Public Services project, financed by the World Bank and implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, this organization of dynamic women is enjoying a new boom.

“Since 2015, we have received support from the Ministry of Agriculture, which allowed us to rehabilitate our premises and purchase the necessary cocoa processing materials and equipment. This then gave us access to other markets for a whole range of products including chocolate, cocoa powder and cocoa butter, as well as chocolate snacks and milks. We also benefited from training sessions on hygiene best practices, as well as marketing and management techniques for micro-enterprises.”

From farm to fork

In 2015, almost half the country’s population was living in rural areas, and for close to 78% of them, agriculture represented the main economic activity. Yet, 70% of households in rural areas live below the poverty line on an income of less than $2 per day.

Despite all this, the Haitian agricultural sector offers tremendous economic potential for rural households, and particularly for female-headed households, whose living conditions are typically more challenging. Women in Haiti traditionally work downstream of the agriculture value chain, specializing in processing and marketing sectors that until recently have received less support than the primary production sector.  

This project focuses on strengthening agricultural services of groups involved particularly in milk, coffee, corn, rice, manioc, and fruit processing or in services relating to farm mechanization or production of inputs, and provides support to farmers' associations upstream and downstream of the value chains. To date, this initiative has had an impact on 70 rural organizations, associations, and cooperatives like RAFAVAL located in the Nord, Nord-Est, and Sud departments and focuses on promoting participation by women. Of over 30,000 producers benefiting from this support, 40% are female farmers based in the Grand Nord region and Centre and Sud departments of Haiti.

“When there is a surge in yields, the prices of products tend to plummet owing to a supply that surpasses the market’s immediate absorptive capacity. This imbalance has served to stall farmers’ momentum, leading to the adoption of adaptation strategies that are sometimes detrimental to the environment. So, we took the initiative to strengthen existing entities associated with the processing of agricultural commodities and products to promote their conservation and enhance the value of farmers’ work,” states Hermann Yves Augustin, overall Project Coordinator.