Haiti: Revised Long Range Plan
EcoCafé Haiti Update—September, 2012
Dodging Hurricane Isaac
For the second year in a row, a forceful tropical storm, subsequently named Hurricane Isaac, disrupted my travel plans. Whereas Hurricane Irene delayed my entry into Haiti in 2011, Hurricane Isaac caused my early departure this year, and what a departure it was.
As a result of getting wind (pun intended) of Isaac’s imminent landfall in Haiti, Mike English, semi-retired businessman and EcoCafé Haiti consultant, and I made a hasty retreat from Ranquitte to Port au Prince to catch the last flight out of Haiti before Isaac’s landfall. Although we left only a day earlier than planned, it was one of those adventures one can count upon when conducting business in Haiti.
Rather than take our traditional departure route, a leisurely truck ride from Ranquitte to Pignon, Haiti, followed by a short hop on a small plane from a grass strip to Port au Prince, Mike and I decided to travel by land at night, our only option to catch the last flight out of Haiti. Without the convenience of paved and lighted roads, that trip consisted of travelling at high speed (50+ MPH) on the dirt road (for lack of a better term) on the back of motorcycles to Hinch, Haiti…a trip that normally would take 4+ hours. In our case, George Derval and Frantz Rosner, EcoCafé Haiti employees and motorcyclists’ extraordinaire, made our trip in only half the time. After arriving in Hinch, covered in mud and dirt, we took a “tap tap” to Port au Prince, departing at 3:00 AM, and arriving 4+ hours later in Port au Prince just in time for our departure flights to the USA. The term “tap tap” literally translates as “quick quick” in Haitian jargon, a shared bus. “Shared” is a relative term, meaning that one ought to expect sharing the bus with anyone, or anything including chickens and goats, in need of transportation. In our case, only one well-behaved chicken was aboard. Further, with a “legal” seating capacity of seven, we experienced eight passengers beyond capacity, excluding the chicken, and were afforded the privilege of seats in the back of the bus, a privilege relegated to the only “blancs” on the bus.
Coffee Farmer Meeting
Although our hasty retreat meant that Mike and I did not accomplish all that was planned, we were able to hold a critical meeting with our coffee farmers. The intention of that meeting was to reacquaint the farmers with EcoCafé Haiti’s accomplishments and expectations, and to get their approval to prune their coffee plants.
Even though pruning is standard practice in most coffee-growing regions of the world, up until this point in time the farmers would not allow us to prune their plants, reluctance based upon fear of killing the plants. With a rousing “Obama-type” speech from George Derval, EcoCafé Haiti’s executive director, we were able to get the permission from 17 farmers to prune. The benefit of pruning is a three to fivefold increase in cherry coffee for a 4+ year period, albeit tempered by the loss of production in the year immediately following pruning.
As we have done in each of the past years, following George’s speech we awarded our top coffee growing farmers with a small cash bonus, $20 to each of the top five producers and $10 to the next five. Although the bonus might seem somewhat trivial to those of us who enjoy the riches of the USA, to a Haitian $20 is a large sum, enough to pay for the education of two children for a year, to purchase food for several months, or to pay for expensive life-saving medicine.
Mme. Cherie Ducange, age 57, was one of our top growers last year. Like most Haitians, she works tirelessly in her coffee and food garden, feeds seven children (ages 14 to 26), lives in a two room mud/stick home, and sells what excess food she cultivates in the weekly farmers’ market…her only source of income beyond the proceeds from the sale of her coffee to EcoCafé Haiti. Mme. Ducange received above fair-trade price for her 500 lbs. of cherry coffee in 2011, a sum of $150. Her coffee volume represented a fourfold increase over her production in 2010. Although reluctant, she agreed to allow us to prune her plants starting in January, 2013.
Revamped Long Range Plan
Just when you think you are running out of ideas to keep your business afloat, when one door shuts another opens (excuse the cliché). There is no other way to describe the way in which Mike English appeared on the scene. Mike, an accomplished businessman, entrepreneur, and Godly supporter of Haiti, offered to help EcoCafé Haiti and our quest to make Ranquitte economically self-sufficient. Having a fresh set of eyes to see what has been done with EcoCafé Haiti and to kick around future plans proved to be a blessing beyond compare.
With Mike’s advice and counsel we decided to separate the coffee business from the other philanthropic work performed by our employees, namely food cultivation for the general citizenry of Ranquitte and ecological restoration/reforestation, doing so to see if the coffee business could stand on its own.
After hiking the hills to the coffee farms and surveying the state of this year’s forthcoming harvest, we were encouraged by the quantity of coffee to expect in 2012, an estimated 30-40% increase over last year, but still far short of the volume necessary to achieve break-even profitability. Further, by brainstorming ideas to increase coffee production with George and Frantz, a four-pronged approach was agreed upon: to expand our reach to coffee farmers beyond Ranquitte; to revive our coffee demonstration garden with much needed shade that otherwise compromises our garden’s production capacity; to prune the existing coffee plants (noted above); and, to set up small scale coffee nurseries adjacent to those farms where the conditions are most conducive to coffee cultivation.
Depending on the assumptions one uses for the above-described approach, we anticipate that break-even profitability can be reached in the next few years, several years beyond my original long range plan estimates; however, to do so means that our community philanthropic endeavors, food cultivation and ecological restoration, will be postponed. Further, this approach necessitates that we limit the number of employees and the duration of their employment, limiting their employment to roughly half the time of what otherwise we have offered in the past. Once break-even profitability is achieved, we will gradually increase the work force to undertake the community food cultivation and ecological restoration efforts that were put on hold.
One of the key assumptions to EcoCafé Haiti’s success is the arousal of an entrepreneurial spirit necessary to fulfill the company’s purpose and achieve the envisioned success. Without an entrepreneurial mindset, our employees and coffee farmers simply look upon the company as a way in which they receive benefit, benefit that is similar to the handouts normally showered upon them by the many missionaries that frequent Ranquitte.
How does one inculcate an entrepreneurial spirit? Is it part of one’s natural psyche (e.g. risk-taking, passion, initiative, extroversion), or is it something that can be encouraged and learned? The answers to those questions have plagued academics for years. There is a growing body of work that shows entrepreneurial behavior is dependent on social and economic factors. For example, countries which have healthy and diversified labor markets or stronger safety nets show a more favorable ratio of opportunity-driven rather than necessity-driven entrepreneurs. Mike English and I fall into the opportunity-driven entrepreneurial camp. Conversely, with the Haitian economy being devoid of a healthy labor market or any semblance of a safety net (e.g. government entitlements), I cannot help but conclude that what entrepreneurial spirit exists in Haiti is necessity-driven. That being said, an entrepreneurial spirit does exist in Ranquitte, a spirit driven by necessity, an entrepreneurial spirit nonetheless.
When the question of entrepreneurship was posed to Frantz Rosner, our agronomist, last year, he offered little response. Without prompting, Frantz approached me on this last trip and said he wanted to share a story. The story revolved around his wife, Martine, who lives in Cap Haitien, her place of employment. Unfortunately, Frantz resides in Ranquitte during the workweek (weekends with his wife in Cap Haitien), some 2+ hours away from Cap Haitien. When Frantz got a frantic midweek call from his wife several months ago wherein she stated the need for emergency medical treatment and the money required to go to the hospital, Frantz needed to act, and act quickly. Frantz was able to wire transfer money from Ranquitte to the hospital for her admission and taxi money for the transportation, doing so via his cell phone in a matter of minutes. At that moment, Frantz realized that the money he made from roasting excess EcoCafé Haiti coffee and selling it to the missionaries who visit Ranquitte was entrepreneurial money, money that he had made on his own through his entrepreneurial connection with EcoCafé Haiti. Thus, Frantz stated that although he could get employment in Cap Haitien, there is no certainty with being an employee, especially in Haiti where jobs are lost as quickly as they are gained. As such, he realized the benefit of entrepreneurship, controlling his own destiny and not being dependent upon others for his and Martine’s livelihood.
Moving Forward and How You Can Help
As mentioned last year, now is the time for the Haitians to lift themselves up out of their situation using the resources (i.e., funding, equipment, facilities, processes, tools, seeds, managerial support, etc.) that have been provided generously by the many supporters of EcoCafé Haiti.
Although I had hoped that our 2012 coffee crop would be sufficient to keep EcoCafé Haiti operationally viable without assistance, I am now of the opinion that the program requires some additional money to give the employees and farmers one last chance to demonstrate their resolve and put their entrepreneurial spirit to test. They have sufficiently demonstrated to me that they are willing to do whatever is necessary (e.g. farmers’ willingness to prune coffee plants, employees willingness to work without full time annual employment, etc.) to achieve the primary goal of economic self-sufficiency. Accordingly, a well thought-out, revised long range plan has been devised, a plan that requires additional donations to continue through 2012 and into the subsequent growing season in 2013. Although not without risk, personally I believe the plan to be realistic and achievable, yet challenging.
So, if you find it in your heart and have the ability to support our efforts, your donation in any amount would be greatly appreciated. If you choose to support the program through donation, kindly send a check to Christian Flights International, 3160 Deep Creek Road, Perryville, Kentucky 40468. Be certain to write “EcoCafé Haiti” in the memo section of your check. As in the past, your donation is fully tax-deductible.
Thank you for your support, prayers, and blessings. Without you, this program would not have gotten off the ground. More important, without you, the people in Ranquitte, Haiti would be far less able to lift themselves out of their precarious condition.
God bless you,