This is why agricultural lender Root Capital is providing loans and consulting expertise to COOPCAB, a Haitian coffee co-op that markets its products internationally while investing money in local reforestation efforts that improve its own production. The cooperative, which has expanded six-fold under Root Capital’s guidance, now includes 5,000 members and has attracted the attention of dignitaries such as Paul Altidor, U.S. ambassador to Haiti.
Managing COOPCAB comes with its own set of challenges. Meeting them requires a model that creates local business leaders rather than simply employing foreign relief workers. Root Capital’s Willy Foote explains:
"COOPCAB ... is managed by local Haitian farmers with little formal training in financial management and accounting. ... As a consequence, we’ve had to innovate and hone our business model in Haiti, slowing our lending in the short term while accelerating and deepening our financial advisory services program."
Perhaps it is this emphasis on training that has made COOPCAB more successful than similar efforts. Critics complain that Haitian farmers focus too heavily on short-term projects, preventing long-term success. They point to the Federation des Associations Cafetieres Natives, a coffee co-op that received $10 million in investment but failed to produce sustainable profits. The brand now exists on paper only.
Government bureaucracy and outdated farming methods also stand between Haitians and their success. There is the story of Steeve Khawly, a rice importer who tried to bring commercial rice milling to Haiti. Because Haitian farming is less efficient than modern practices in developed countries, local farms did not produce enough local rice to make Khawly's effort profitable, so he packed up his mill and sent it back to Guyana.