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Cacao and Natural Disasters: Haïti

Atlas d’Haiti, Centre d’Etudes de Geographic Tropicale (C.N.R.S.) et Universite de Bordeaux 3

As seen in this topographical map of Haiti, the country comprises many different geo-ecological zones which encompass mountains, valleys, savannas, deserts, and tropical forests. With an economy based traditionally on agriculture, Haiti produces a diversity of crops, among them: sugar cane, cacao, cotton, rice, coffee, mangoes, root crops, corn, sisal, and essential oils.

In plate 16 of the Atlas d’Haïti, the orange-colored areas show where cacao is cultivated, in particular in the western tip of the island, such as Dame-Marie, Chambellan, Anse d’Hainault, and Tiburon, and in the north near Cap-Haitien, around Pilate, Le Borgne, and Milot. Cacao requires specific conditions for proper cultivation: a hot and humid climate, ample rainfall, a canopy of trees to provide shade and protection from the sun, and soil enriched by decaying ground cover.

Natural disasters as well as human behavior have played havoc with the island nation, destroying precious natural resources which cannot be replenished easily. Widespread deforestation, for example, has occurred as Haitian peasants have cut down trees for lumber and charcoal or “charbon” for use in cooking and other household tasks. Deforestation has contributed, in turn, to soil erosion, which is exacerbated by flooding during heavy rainfalls. This has led to disastrous consequences for agriculture and economic development in the country as well as for the safety, livelihood, and survival of the Haitian people. But forest loss is also detrimental to the earth's climate and one of the biggest single contributors to climate change, global warming, and the loss of bio-diversity. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew, a powerful and devastating category 5 tropical hurricane, wrought widespread destruction and catastrophic loss of life as it made its way across the Western Atlantic. Matthew’s most significant impacts were felt in Haiti. Flooding and high winds disrupted telecommunications and destroyed extensive swaths of land. There was major damage to regions of cacao production in the western part of the country, as trees were uprooted and land damaged. Later that fall, a post-hurricane rapid assessment and baseline study was undertaken to analyze the damage and loss to the cacao sector in six regions of western Haiti: Abricots, Moron, Chambellan, Dame-Marie, Anse d’Hainault, and Irois. Sponsored by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the project focused on the hurricane’s direct effects on deterioration in household livelihoods and their capacity to afford basic healthcare, food, safe housing, and schooling for their children. The study also reported on the hurricane’s impact on cacao production, the cacao market, and the larger problematic of development of the cacao chain (i.e., cultivation, production, processing, storage, and distribution). Written by agricultural economist Frisner Pierre, the December 2016 report, L’Houragan Matthew et la Filière Cacao dans la Grand’Anse: Le Producteur, la Coopérative, Dommages et Pertes, Résilience et Stratégie de Relèvement, discusses the need for improvement in the cacao sector to assure sustainable revenue and a better way of life for different actors in the cacao sector. The hurricane caused significant damage to cacao plantations, while cover trees were less resistant than cacao trees. Of the cacao trees examined, one-third were unrecoverable, two-thirds were alive, and one-quarter needed intervention strategies. Fallen trees were used for gardens, charcoal production, and lumber, necessitating labor to clean the plantations. While there was hope that natural regeneration would bring the cacao sector back, the major question centered on cacao productivity and yield in light of the widespread loss of cacao trees and lack of appropriate shade trees.

Hurricane Matthew arrived during the period of cacao's full harvest which runs from September to December, with smaller harvests in March-April and July-August, while the main planting season is April-May. With the loss of productivity and cash income, cacao farmers were faced with the burden of cultivating short-cycle species, such as beans, maize, and sweet potatoes, for food and to raise capital for future investment in, and cultivation of, cacao. An examination of cacao cooperatives in the Grand’Anse region also pointed to severely damaged fermentation and storage facilities -- with the loss of roofs, crushed fermentation stalls, torn solar dryers, and damaged or missing kiosks where cacao is bought. Making fermentation centers functional for the next harvest (in Easter 2017) necessitated repairs, financial resources, technical assistance, appropriate tools, and temporary, labor-intensive jobs. Recommendations in the report for the rehabilitation of the cacao sector included: meeting urgent food needs; supporting the revival of livestock and agricultural production associated with the cacao-based, agro-forestry system; upgrading the cacao ecosystem through renewal of the plantations, restoring the means of production, and recapitalizing cooperatives; and restarting the cacao sector to generate sustainable incomes for all stakeholders -- i.e., producers, cooperatives, processors, and speculators -- while supporting innovative livelihoods.

While the cacao sector is highly fragile in times of natural disaster, the study points to the resilience and rejuvenation of this tropical crop in Haiti. “Cocoa is still alive, there is hope.”

Link to the complete, 236-page Hurricane Matthew Study:!AhW3fMrJryfzg7ghTtuN0IL1tguJAg

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