Building an Inclusive Value Chain in Haiti through Technical Assistance

by Andrew Lala on August 7, 2013

Isaac Gardner Haiti Mangoes 2Next time you walk into a Whole Foods and see mangoes from Haiti, take a moment to consider the journey they traveled to get there. All of the fresh mangoes shipped to Whole Foods stores across the U.S. came not from industrial orchards with tens of thousands of trees, but rather from thousands of individual Haitian farmers harvesting from an average of seven trees scattered throughout each of their gardens. These farmers were able to get their products on the shelves with assistance from TechnoServe’s Haiti Hope Project, a public-private partnership with The Coca-Cola Company, the Multilateral Investment Fund, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Project is also supported by the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, the Soros Economic Development Fund, and other international and local organizations.

For the past three years, TechnoServe has sought to provide “business solutions to poverty” in Haiti by supporting an inclusive value chain for mangoes, providing technical assistance to smallholder farmers, and helping to create a direct export sales channel through farmer-led intermediaries. The goal of the Haiti Hope Project is to double smallholder farmers’ income from mango sales in five years through stakeholder support and training focused on best practices for harvest, selection, transportation and recordkeeping. There are currently 23,000 farmers enrolled in the program, of which 15,000 have already been trained, with plans to train the remaining farmers by the end of the year.

In some ways, the underlying problem seems simple: many smallholder farmers lack the skills and logistics to get their mangoes to the most profitable markets. A collective action problem rooted in weak ties between rural and urban Haiti prevents the farmers from having any real negotiating power, and as a result, intermediaries receive a large portion of the profits while farmers end up with a much smaller share. In reality, the problems are far more complex and involve non-tariff barriers to trade, competition from Mexican mangoes, high logistical costs, and climate variability. Part of the solution lies within the direct export channel that TechnoServe has helped to establish. Smallholder farmers are trained and work with local groups that help with selection of high-quality mangoes, Fair Trade and organic certification, traceability requirements, and arranging bulk transportation into Port-au-Prince. From there, exporters select the highest quality mangoes for export. This season, we have seen smallholder farmers receive double the price from this sales channel than that paid by local intermediaries for similar quality mangoes.

While in Haiti this summer, one question I asked myself was, “Why not cut out intermediaries who don’t add any value?” Many farmers prefer to hedge against the risk of an uncertain harvest by selling through multiple channels, even if some are less profitable, and some farmers prefer to sell to intermediaries who do all of the harvesting, giving the farmers more time to work in other income-generating activities. In the final two years of the Project, TechnoServe is working to change these circumstances by improving access to export channels and creating incentives for farmers to focus on generating more income from mango sales by planting more trees and purchasing better tools for harvest and transportation. I am also encouraged by global sourcing commitments from large corporations, like Walmart’s Sustainable Agriculture Commitment to buy from one million small and medium-sized farms. But Haiti still confronts the challenge of bringing producers closer to consumers and ensuring greater flexibility and resiliency in the supply of mangoes from smallholder farmers.

My experience in Haiti recalls my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, where I worked on improving village food security through market gardening and food transformation. There, I saw rural farmers disconnected from markets and wondered why the market had failed to help them profit from excellent products. One initiative I undertook to improve the livelihoods of Burkinabé farmers involved helping train them to decrease waste and increase yields through improved use of seeds and compost. My experiences taught me that sometimes behavioral and structural changes have to occur for market drivers to take root in developing countries.

Haitian mangoes face similar obstacles. Buyers have to help build a more flexible supply chain that tolerates small variations. This is difficult because consumers (even customers who shop at socially-oriented supermarkets) do not often purchase based on goodwill, while supermarkets have to profit from sales regardless of the story behind the product. These Haitian mangoes have to be as fresh, uniform, and attractive as the competition from factory orchards, while smallholder farmers need to be more resilient to yield fluctuations, implement stricter quality control, and produce economies of scale to make their shipments profitable.

While corporate commitments from Whole Foods and Walmart are critical to generating demand, there exists a growing need to help smallholder farmers strengthen the supply side of the mango value chain. Technical assistance programs like TechnoServe’s Haiti Hope Project will continue to play a large role in helping small-scale Haitian farmers to reach global markets alongside more experienced and better-equipped competition from other countries.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TechnoServe.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Naeta August 7, 2013

Please tell us more about how you see this initiative impacting the intermediaries.

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2 Andrew Lala August 8, 2013

Good point Naeta – we found early evidence that some intermediaries are joining the program as producers or as the farmer-led intermediaries that receive training from TechnoServe. The Project is considering working with the intermediaries not currently enrolled in the program and other stakeholders to help the industry as a whole reduce waste, improve quality and to help smallholder farmers increase production.

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3 Brooks Shaffer September 11, 2013

Thanks for the insightful article, Andrew, and for sharing your experience. It sounds like you had a fascinating summer, and it’s always heartening to hear of successful public-private partnerships like TechnoServe’s Haiti Hope Project.

In terms of stakeholder support, I would like to get a better sense of the activities that were carried out on the ground. Could you share a bit more details about the best-practice focused training sessions for harvest, selection, transportation and recordkeeping? Were you involved with any of these? What did they look like in practice? How often did the trainings occur (duration, frequency)? What recordkeeping methods were taught?

Also, you mentioned the Coca Cola Company being a partner, but not the role that they played. Was it simply financial contribution to the project, or are they sourcing fruit from the Haitian mango growers as well? Perhaps for their Odwalla line of drinks?

Finally (and apologies for the barrage of questions here) do you know whether any evaluation studies have or will be taking place to measure impact? Thanks again for sharing, Andrew, and hope classes are going well.

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4 Andrew Lala September 27, 2013

Thanks for the comment, Brooks! As you might imagine, there is no best practices field manual for smallholder mango farmers, intermediaries, logistics agents, and exporters in Haiti. Trainings were developed to address key obstacles in the value chain by staff across departments from M&E to agronomist to management. The trainings are conducted by community organizers or business advisers who live near the farmers. The seasonal calendar is considered to ensure that trainings are best utilized and attended.

For example, a community organizer would hold a training session for a new group of farmers on proper harvest techniques. This involves shifting attitudes towards adopting new, locally-made harvest tools that reduce the bruising. It also involves assessing the proper ripeness for when a mango should come off the tree. The community organizer holds periodic trainings based on the farmers’ availability and during key times during the harvest season.

Record-keeping is best kept by the producer business groups, comprised of other community members involved in the mango supply chain, which act as intermediaries and have the capacity to track the quality and quantity of mangoes flowing through the business group. TechnoServe’s business advisers help these groups throughout the season to reinforce proper record-keeping and ensure that it is accurate and valued. To farmers, there is direct feedback because those farmers that produce Fair Trade certified mangoes and whose records are properly kept receive a premium for their mangoes.

In terms of The Coca-Cola Company, in addition to a financial contribution to the project, the company is working with TechnoServe on developing a mango juice industry by sharing expertise and conducting research and development on the mango varieties found in Haiti. Also, a brief description of the project can be seen on the backs of Odwalla’s Mango Tango juices in stores throughout the U.S. which help with fundraising for the Haiti Hope Project.

For evaluation purposes, the original baseline was conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank and a mid-term evaluation is currently being carried out to assess the outcomes of the trainings and other aspects of the program, such as providing credit to farmers, and the impact that the project has had on smallholder farmers’ income from mango sales.

I hope this helps to clarify this fascinating and promising public-private partnership in Haiti!

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