From bean to bar, Haiti’s cocoa wants international recognition

From bean to bar, Haiti’s cocoa wants international recognition
Sorting of cocoa beans according to their size and appearance is done in the workshops of Makaya Chocolat on December 23, 2020 in Petionville, Haiti. (AFP)
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Updated 28 December 2020

From bean to bar, Haiti’s cocoa wants international recognition

From bean to bar, Haiti’s cocoa wants international recognition
  • Country’s private sector has begun investing in the cocoa industry

PORT-AU-PRINCE: Although small in the face of South America’s giants, Haiti is slowly developing its cocoa industry, earning better incomes for thousands of farmers and refuting the stereotype that culinary art is the preserve of wealthy countries.

Haiti’s annual production of 5,000 tons of cocoa pales in comparison to the 70,000 tons produced per year by neighboring Dominican Republic, but the sector’s development is recent in the island nation.

Feccano, a federation of cocoa cooperatives in northern Haiti, became the first group to organize exchanges in 2001 by prioritizing farmers’ profits.

“Before, there was the systematic destruction of cocoa trees because the market price wasn’t interesting for farmers who preferred very short-cycle crops,” said Guito Gilot, Feccano’s commercial director.

The cooperative now works with more than 4,000 farmers in northern Haiti.

By fermenting its members’ beans before export, Feccano has been able to target the market for fine and aromatic cocoa.

“Feccano’s customers pay for quality: They don’t have the New York Stock Exchange as a reference,” said Gilot.

Smelling potential, Haiti’s private sector finally began investing in the cocoa industry, which until then had been supported solely by non-governmental organizations and humanitarian efforts.

By setting up its fermentation setter in 2014 in Acul-du-Nord, 15 km from Haiti’s second city Cap-Haitien, the company Produit des iles (PISA) entered the market. But the logistical challenges are many.

“The producers we work with farm less than a hectare, often divided into several plots whereas, in Latin America, a small producer already owns four or five hectares,” explained Aline Etlicher, who developed the industry at PISA.

“We buy fresh cocoa, the same day as the harvest so the farmer no longer has the problems of drying and storing that they would have if they sold it to an intermediary,” said the French agronomist.

In recent months, this just-in-time bean collection from all sites has been more challenging because many roads were regularly blocked due to socio-political unrest.

Maintaining organic and fair trade certifications for the cocoa is delicate, but the Haitian style has made its mark abroad.

“Today there are bars sold in the United States that are called Acul-du-Nord,” Etlicher said proudly.

“With our customers, we are part of the ‘bean to bar’ movement of chocolate makers who transform the cocoa bean into the chocolate bar,” she said, adding that by cutting out the middleman, Haitian producers’ revenues have doubled.

And on the other end of the chain, bean processing remains local.


Indonesia campaign helps SMEs enter Saudi market

Indonesia campaign helps SMEs enter Saudi market
Updated 14 min 39 sec ago

Indonesia campaign helps SMEs enter Saudi market

Indonesia campaign helps SMEs enter Saudi market
  • They will be the main target of the export initiative, which is estimated by the Indonesian Ministry of Trade to be able to generate $60 million

JAKARTA: Indonesia has launched a campaign to help small firms in the country compete for millions of dollars-worth of food trade in Saudi Arabia.

The government aims to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) improve the quality and competitiveness of their products to meet the Kingdom’s required standards, Indonesian trade and commerce officials have said.

Under normal circumstances, before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, around 1.5 million Indonesians a year make the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj and Umrah and hundreds of thousands work in the Kingdom.

They will be the main target of the export initiative, which is estimated by the Indonesian Ministry of Trade to be able to generate $60 million.

To meet the Saudi food regulator’s standards, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin), the Ministry of Trade, and the Ministry of Cooperatives and Small-Medium Enterprises have teamed up to assist SMEs in improving products such as bottled chili sauce, soya sauce, coffee, tea, and sugar that are in highest demand among Indonesians in Saudi Arabia.

Kadin chairman, Rosan Roeslani, told Arab News: “We have facilitated five small-medium enterprises that produce soya sauce to obtain Saudi Food and Drug Authority approval for distribution, while nine tea and coffee producers are in the pipeline to also obtain a license. We have also submitted the application for four bottled chili sauce producers.”

While travel and pilgrimage restrictions remain in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he said that the time before things get back to normal will be used to prepare the SMEs — which contribute 60 percent to the country’s gross domestic product and employ up to 90 percent of its workforce — for expansion into the Saudi market as soon as the pilgrimage sector resumes.

“We still have time to groom them as there are many aspects such as hygiene, and consistency in their product quality and quantity that they need to improve,” Roeslani added.

In 2014, the Ministry of Religious Affairs issued a regulation obliging catering companies that provided food and drink to Indonesian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia to source their products from Indonesian producers whenever possible.

Indonesia’s vice religious affairs minister, Zainut Tauhid Sa’adi, said that as each Indonesian pilgrim received food from caterers an average 75 times during his or her pilgrimage, demand was high but supply in Saudi Arabia remained limited and similar products from India and Thailand had been used instead.

Kasan Muhri, director general for export development at the Ministry of Trade, told Arab News that the program to prepare the SMEs had been in the making since 2017 and officials eventually decided to launch it this year despite the COVID-19 restrictions.

“Just because there are few Umrah pilgrims now and this year’s Hajj remains uncertain, it does not mean that the market is gone.

“People from around the world would still go to Saudi Arabia to perform the pilgrimage, not just Indonesians, so we are doing this to anticipate the market when the economy revives, and things are recovered. We don’t want to be left behind,” Muhri said.

Besides food and beverage products, officials say they are also looking into the possibility of exporting items such as goodie bags, prayer beads, and other pilgrimage accessories made by Indonesian SMEs.