Haitian Farmers Have Sold their Coffee at the Wrong Price. A Local Company is Changing That

sept 08, 2022 | Ayiti Demen

With funding support from FOKAL and Ayiti Demen in 2021, Café-Lux, a social enterprise, is able to offer thousands of Haitian farmers better prices for their coffee beans and training in farming techniques to grow quality products.

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Beniton Magloire, a farmer who has been growing coffee for more than five decades in the southeast part of Haiti.
Credit photo: Reginald Louissaint

Beniton Magloire, a Haitian farmer in his sixties, has been immersed in coffee for as long as he can remember. Not only is it the drink that kicks off his day every morning, but coffee growing has also been his family’s main subsistence activity. “As a kid, I would go to the farm with my mom every June, and she taught me everything about coffee.” 

So, it did not take Beniton long to figure out that he would become a coffee farmer. At only eighteen, he was already raising his crops. “Coffee is really what allowed me to get into business,” he says. He now harvests some 250 pounds of coffee beans a year on his own piece of land in Jacmel, one of the most forested parts of Haiti.  

Coffee farming has historically played a vital role in the Haitian economy. In the mid-20th century, Haiti was the world’s third largest exporter of coffee, and thousands of Haitian families rely on it as their primary source of income. The mountainous configuration of the land offers ideal environmental conditions to grow arabica, the world’s best coffee quality, in Haiti.

In 1949, Haiti was the world’s third coffee-growing country and most of the coffee harvested in Haiti is Arabica.
Credit photo: Reginald Louissaint

However, despite their hard labor, small farmers like Beniton have long struggled to enjoy the full benefit of the coffee trade. When Haiti was forced to pay $560 million for the “independence debt”  to France between 1825 and 1947, these funds largely came from charges imposed on coffee farmers. In addition, speculators often underprice their products and resell them at substantially higher prices in the international market. Baffled by this unfair practice –among other challenges, many farmers decide to replace coffee with vegetable crops, hoping to improve their economic opportunities.

"I wanted to create new opportunities for these farmers by purchasing their coffee beans at a better price so they can find decent revenues to provide education to their children and feed their families.''

– Remy Telfils, founder of Café-Lux

Remy Telfils, an agricultural engineer who also grew up in a coffee-growing family, thought he would change that. So, fresh out of college, he started in 2013 Café-Lux, a social enterprise that specializes in the production and marketing of roast coffee. 

“I wanted to create new opportunities for these farmers by purchasing their coffee beans at a better price so they can find decent revenues to provide education to their children and feed their families,” Remy says. “So far, we are on the right path.”  

Café-Lux operates with a network of more than 10,000 coffee growers of which Beniton has been a member for four years. The farmers receive an advance payment to sustain their needs during the production cycle, which can last up to five years.

But weather hazards are such a threat to coffee production in Haiti. When the tropical storm Grace hit the southeast of Haiti last year, Remy was a front-line witness to the devastation. “Many farms were destroyed, equipment was lost, and sites of farmers’ associations collapsed, he recounts. But we are building back now.” 

With the money raised from their earthquake relief campaign last year, FOKAL and Ayiti Demen offered a grant to Café-Lux so the company and the farmers could resume their activities. That funding, Remy thinks, makes a world of difference. ”We bought a giant coffee grinder, coffee packages, and equipment to produce seedlings to distribute to the farmers,” he says

Last year, Café-Lux produced about 10,000 pounds of coffee, most of which was sold as ground coffee or beans to different stores in Port-a-Prince, according to Remy. The company has made its debut on the international market with some distribution in Canada and the United States and featured an exhibition sale in Germany.

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Remy Telfils, the founder of Café-Lux, a company that processes and commercializes Haitian coffee. Café-Lux is now doing business with a network of more than 10,000 coffee farmers.
Credit photo: Reginald Louissaint

With the funding provided by FOKAL and Haiti Demen in 2021, Café-Lux acquires a giant coffee grinder and other equipment. Its 2021 production was estimated at some 10,000 pounds of coffee.

But much more remains to be done. Remy says Cafe-Lux wants to repair the storage site and purchase an electronic coffee bean sorter to increase production capacity. “If coffee was used to pay the independence debt, that means it has a lot of value. Coffee can really bring money to the farmers and boost the country’s economy, but we need to give them [the farmers] resources so they can expand their production.”

"When we work together as farmers, we develop friendships, share ideas, and much more."

– Beniton Magloire, coffee farmer

It is, in fact, thanks to coffee growing that Beniton manages to raise a family of six children, some of whom are now college graduates. But more than just an economic activity, coffee growing, as he sees it, can also serve as a catalyst for social cohesion and strengthen communities. “When we work together as farmers, we develop friendships, share ideas, and much more.”

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