Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas according to the World Bank, with 59 percent of its population living below the national poverty line of $2.41 US dollars per day. The country is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, with more than 90 percent of its people at risk. Hurricane Matthew battered the south of the country in 2016, which was the most devastating disaster since the country’s 2010 earthquake. And while most Haitians have only a tiny patch of land on which to grow crops for subsistence living or for income, one thing they do have is mango trees.
In fact, more than 100,000 Haitians have mango trees. The relationship between farmers and their trees is complicated, yet rich with potential due to continued demand from US buyers.
In 2013, the average income from conventional mango sales per farmer was $60 per season. With wages this low, farmers can actually earn more in the short term by cutting down their mango trees to sell for charcoal than they would selling their mangoes to the local market, where transparent wages might as well be a pipe dream.
Today, mango farmers are discovering a better alternative and taking control of their livelihoods by selling their Francique mangoes on fair trade terms.
Farmers that have chosen to grow and sell under rigorous fair trade standards in Haiti have organized into over 200 Producer Business Groups that harvest, wash, package, and transport their mangoes to Perry Exports in Port-au-Prince. These groups act as informal cooperatives and together are able to receive higher prices for their Fair Trade Certified™ mangoes. They also receive an additional $0.45 for every case of fair trade mangoes that goes into a farmer-controlled Community Development Fund. Each Producer Business Group has a Fair Trade Committee that consists of mango farmers who decide together how to spend the funds to improve their lives and meet their unique individual and collective needs, as well as the needs of their communities and environments. Since 2014, farmers in Haiti have earned a total of $177K in Community Development Funds through fair trade to invest back into their communities and production.
There are nearly 2,000 smallholder mango farmers who are currently selling their mangoes on fair trade terms. One of those is 46-year-old Rose Marie Ostin.
“My 14-year-old daughter just moved to Port-au-Prince to go to school and I have been able to help her with money made from the mango business,” she says. “Today, I am proud, because I work at home, we work in a group, and I can help my family and friends. I know how to run my own business, I have a guaranteed income, and my children can receive proper education. I love this work so much that I started a group that makes sure mango trees are being planted and taken care of. I have seven children, but feel I am the mother of many in this community and I am happy to be able to help.”
Some farmers have used Community Development Funds to set up plant nurseries to diversify off-season crops, some have installed water wells, while others constructed roads to improve access and mobility to and from markets.
In addition, the price paid for Fair Trade Certified mangoes is significantly higher than most alternatives. The average income from Fair Trade Certified mango sales per farmer in 2013 was more than double that of those who sold through non-fair trade channels, averaging around $150 for Fair Trade Certified mangoes, compared to $60 for regular mangoes. This signifies real, sustainable impact for farmers and families.
Fair trade also creates incentive for farmers to preserve their trees. Under fair trade terms, when farmers deliver their harvest to their group’s collection center, they can earn approximately $75— five times more than selling the harvest to middlemen and double the amount per entire tree compared to what they would make by chopping it down and selling it as charcoal. This has resulted in decreased deforestation and a renewed commitment to preserving Haiti’s soil and land.
Besides the tangible economic and environmental impacts, the core element of empowerment has significantly contributed to the development of farmer communities. Elements such as democratic decision-making have permeated communities and are now practiced for matters beyond mango operations.
Want to get involved?
You can help by buying and enjoying Fair Trade Certified mangoes. No change happens overnight, but with increased support from shoppers, Fair Trade Certified mangoes will continue to sustain the development of many communities throughout Haiti.