Climate change’s souring effects on Haiti crops

Haiti’s coffee production, which is enjoying a sweet comeback, could be adversely affected by warmer temperatures and less rainfall in the future, a study released Thursday by Catholic Relief Services said.

The humanitarian arm of the Catholic Church commissioned the study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture to help its work with coffee and mango growers in southern Haiti. But after seeing how climatic changes could reduce suitable agriculture land for coffee, while offering opportunity for other crops, CRS decided it needed to be shared with a wider audience, said Jeff McIntosh, CRS deputy director in Haiti.

“The main message is there are climatic changes that are being forecast through the study and the effects will be felt in the near term and over the next 40 years,” he said from the Hotel Montana in Petionville, where CRS led a day-long discussion with officials from Haiti’s ministry of environment and agriculture, among others.

“There is a lot of consensus among everyone, including government actors, that we need to accept that climate change is real and therefore we need to start putting measures in place to mitigate the effects,” McIntosh said. “There is time to do something.”

Ironically, the grim news about future coffee production comes as the cash crop enjoys renewed focus.

Walmart next month will begin offering Haitian coffee, TOWO Supreme, at six South Florida stores. The coffee is being distributed by Kafe Pa Nou, whose founder Rene Faustin cut the deal with Walmart after selling the coffee online for a year.

“This is a great opportunity for us to introduce this amazing coffee to the masses and help the farmers who produce it earn a fair wage,” Faustin said.

Senior Walmart buyer Daniel Chinchay said the company “felt it was a great opportunity and a unique one.”

The CRS study calls for improved irrigation, shade cover and other proactive measures to mitigate climatic changes. Otherwise, it notes, Haiti could eventually see lower quality and yields, while farmers would experience more economic losses.

But where climatic changes present challenges for coffee, the news isn’t all bad for mangoes and cocoa, the study found.

Mangoes are expected to remain “a highly suitable crop” even as its growing regions shift and the varieties go from excellent to very suitable because of weather changes. Cocoa, meanwhile, isn’t expected to be affected by the long-term changes, and growing world demand for the crop could greatly benefit Haitian farmers.

“Cocoa is a valuable cash crop that’s known in Haiti and the variety of the cocoa grown in Haiti is one of the most prized in the world,” McIntosh said.