Feccano Lends Prestige to Cocoa Made in Haiti 

Promoting fair trade and organic cocoa among farmers and transforming the image of Haitian cocoa worldwide. These are the ambitious but realistic objectives of the Fédération des Coopératives Cacaoyères du Nord (FECCANO – Northern Cocoa Cooperatives Federation), which has managed to position itself both on the local and community level and on the international market.  

It has been said that the inhabitants of the Northern parts of Haiti are a proud people, particularly owing to their contribution to the founding of their nation. The 4,000 cocoa farmers who are members of FECCANO can also be proud. Founded in 2001 by six cooperatives, the federation has become in its 20 years a leading player in the production of fermented cocoa in Haiti. It now brings together eight cooperatives, has developed a formal structure and is constantly improving its skills, knowledge and the quality of its cocoa. This growth is encouraged by the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) through its programme to support the cocoa/chocolate value chain in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 

Haitian cocoa has a remarkable intrinsic quality. Whether criollo, trinitario or forestero, its fruity aromas and its characteristics stem from the old varieties cultivated by the farmers, but also from a soil favorable to the production of a high-quality cocoa. The average annual production is currently estimated at 400 tons with an annual growth rate of about 20%. This is very little compared to the national volume estimated at 6,000 tons annually, and 60,000 tons in the Dominican Republic. 

Haitian cocoa farmers have long been dependent on intermediaries: traders, hucksters, speculators and exporters, working within a monopoly market, who have always offered very low prices. Since its establishment in 2001, FECCANO works directly with the cocoa farmers. This arrangement has led to the recovery of the added value of the product and increased producers’ income. “Back then, we used to cut down cocoa trees, but today we plant cocoa” boasts Guito Gilot, one of the founding members.

In the ‘Jardin créole’ as the Haitian vegetable garden is known, in the shade of the cocoa trees, farmers not only cultivate yams and plantains, but also cassava, beans, corn, chayote, etc. Fruit trees, especially citrus trees, associated with cocoa trees, feed the family, but also give the soil and the land a quality that will give each cocoa its particular flavor. This Creole garden, at the heart of the Haitian ecosystem, is at the root of the Haitian family survival. Even though it has slowed down the development of cocoa production, considered as secondary, it could however be its future thanks to the promotion of the whole chain and the particular taste associated with each type of soil. 

In 20 years, the cocoa exported has changed category. Through training, sharing of good practices, and better knowledge of their product, FECCANO has helped farmers, both male and female (40% of the members are women), who grew a few cocoa trees underneath mango trees, become exporters of beans certified according to organic and fairtrade standards. It is worth noting that it is the fermentation process, an essential step to release the “precursors” of aromas and to obtain a quality product, which has been a turning point, when for decades the cocoa in the area (and in the country) was not fermented and therefore sold at lower prices.  

Since 2008, with the technical assistance of a French NGO (AVSF) and the support of the Conseil Départemental des Hauts-de-Seine (France) (Departmental Council of Hauts-de-Seine), FECCANO has undertaken to mastering the fermentation process to enhance the value of its cocoa. It has gradually positioned itself as the pioneer of quality cocoa across the country, before becoming the national leader and building a global image. In 2011, FECCANO obtained the Ecocert certification. Two of the largest international chocolate companies, Ethiquable and Valrhona, have become its biggest buyers. In 2013, FECCANO obtained the SPP (Fair Trade) certification, and in 2013 and 2015, it obtained the Cocoa of Excellence prize awarded by the International Cocoa Awards. It grew to 7 member cooperatives in 2014, and then to 8 in 2018. Simultaneously to this growth, the Federation is working to change mentalities.

We are committed to respecting the environment and are keen to incorporate practices relative to the conservation of biodiversity and food safety into our processes,” explains Jean Guillaume Célestin, executive director of the Federation. FECCANO plays a key role in raising awareness, providing guidance and personalized assistance to farmers. “It was not easy to convince farmers of the benefits of the cocoa tree “regeneration” program when it was put forward in 2015. We recommended introducing new seedlings on these 60 to 80-year-old plots and carrying out a diagnosis to implement the systematic pruning of the oldest trees. They were afraid that the plot would be less productive. I was afraid of it myself…” says Dejean Phanord, chairman of the board of directors. But it was proven to be the best approach.  

Today FECCANO wants to go further… And Caribbean Export supports it through a program financed by the trade and private sector support component of the bi-national HT-RD program under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) of the European Union.  In June 2021, the Agency organized a virtual training on quality management systems, certification management and cupping. The objective was to strengthen the knowledge of FECCANO staff in Haiti, to orient them towards competitiveness and enable the network’s cocoa to have a better image and to carve out a place for itself in the specialty cocoa market.  

Following this training, FECCANO intends to provide technical assistance and work on a strategy to improve the quality of their cocoa and direct it towards a higher value market.  A field visit will allow them to develop a concise, effective and appropriate strategy. These corrective and preventive actions should improve production and post-harvest processes, resulting in better quality and the possibility of reaching higher value markets. 

Early this year, Caribbean Export supported the creation of a website that will introduce FECCANO and its member cooperatives to customers and the general public, as well as the different services and products the federation provides. In February 2022, the Agency also organized meetings with other cocoa sector professionals. This project which aimed to exchange best practices was organized with the National Confederation of Dominican Cocoa Farmers, CONACADO (for its acronym in Spanish), with the aim of learning about their promotional strategies and marketing of Dominican cocoa, their production and processing techniques and organizational management mechanisms implemented in the Dominican Republic, the leading exporter of organic cocoa in the world. Following this, FECCANO has included the process of making chocolate from the bean to the bar in its future projects. “This is part of the challenges to be undertaken, along with our efforts to increase production and competitiveness, and therefore convince producers to plant more. But not only that… we need a real cocoa policy in Haiti, with institutional strategies on agriculture, and also on transportation. Most of the production areas are very isolated and fairly inaccessible,” explains JG Célestin.  

Changing the image of Haitian cocoa takes time, but the results are very promising. FECCANO has guided its members, accompanied the farmers, and stimulated a solidarity that has helped them achieve the vitality of an organized national producer. Of the 8 member cooperatives, all are certified fair trade (SPP), 4 are already certified organic and the other 4 are in the process of being certified. With a significant increase in exports (50% between 2020 and 2021) and support such as that offered by Caribbean Export which focused on the value chain, the dream of going from the bean to the chocolate bar could become reality. The 8 cooperatives now ensures the fermentation process is undertaken. The federation receives the beans ready for export and can test them in its laboratory. Thanks to the recent virtual capacity training on cupping, FECCANO is now able to evaluate its roasted product. It is only one step away from the bar! 

SANDILOU: Resort Wear Made in Haiti

Unique hand-painted pieces, drawings reproduced on clothing or beach accessories, stencils, silkscreens print or dyes, SANDILOU has developed a very original, “Made in Haiti”, resort wear garment collection that is just waiting to be exported! And this is what Caribbean Export wants to help make happen…

Under the arbor of SANDILOU’s workshop in Delmas 64, in the Port-au-Prince greater metropolitan area, the shimmering colors of the scarves and dyed fabrics flutter in the breeze. They will then be washed and dried in the sun, before being embellished and sewn.  

In this large garden, which is home to a hundred-year-old tree, the team members are concentrated on their tasks: some paint the backgrounds with dyes, others add outlines with brushes on dyed fabric canvases stretched on frames. Here they paint freehand and without pre-established drawing, on natural fabrics such as cotton, linen or rayon, using special fabric paints.  

Sandra Russo shares her inspiration for a collection with her team of artists (which is very family oriented: several family generations paint or sew). It is up to the team to interpret the idea on canvas….  “I decide which tone and colors to be used and everyone has free reign to deliver a different piece… that’s the beauty of unique handmade pieces,” she says cheerfully. And that is the essence of this small Haitian brand that wants to grow! 

In 2012, Sandra Russo registered SANDILOU as a “textile handicrafts” company. A very specific classification, obtained thanks to her determination and which allows her to operate within the taxes and transport rates bracket set forth for the handicraft industry and not the textile industry.  

She has been immersed in the painting and art world since childhood. “I was surrounded by women painters, starting with my mother, I grew up surrounded by artists. This led me to pursue painting, and then to SANDILOU. For the record, this name is the combination of my nickname and that of my sister… given by a family member who could never tell us apart, so he combined us into a single nickname…”, she concludes with a laugh. The small brand reflects the owner’s upbringing: it offers its pictorial art on several textile materials, a whole range of beach clothing and accessories, leisure-type garments, and also home goods such as tablecloths and a collection of cushions, each more colorful than the other. Many different techniques are used: tie-dye, stencils, silkscreen printing, airbrushing, printing… All of this contributes to making SANDILOU’s collections very original and unique works of art hand-painted on scarves (their best sellers) or reproduced on beach towels and cushions. 

When original accessories and garments are produced on an island, the challenge is to export them. For SANDILOU, as for many Haitian designers, the local market is always a useful laboratory for testing products, but only export can guarantee real growth. It is through this lens, and in particular to encourage a connection with the Dominican Republic (DR) market that Caribbean Export, through a program funded by the trade and private sector support component of the bi-national HT-RD program within the framework of the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) of the European Union, has tried, for several years, to guide and assist the value chain of handicrafts companies, including SANDILOU.  COVID 19 slowed down these plans, but the meetings finally came to fruition through the virtual presentation of several Haitian companies to potential buyers from the neighboring country. The meeting with the Jenny Polanco company allowed SANDILOU to present its samples to a brand that is already well established in the DR. Sandra Russo also worked on the Symbiose project, another program initiated by Caribbean Export, which brought together the two countries on a jewelry design training course, to dress the models who will present these works during an exhibition that should take place in 2022.  

 

While waiting for opportunities to materialize on this side of the island, SANDILOU is working on its website and marketing tools, thanks to a direct grant obtained from the Caribbean Export’s Private Sector Development Support Program. “We have produced a short video and website ourselves and will improve or develop more relevant and up-to-date marketing and communication tools to tackle the market. With kaftans, scarves, beach dresses and colorful towels, our collection is really a typical resort-wear and leisure style product, and the Caribbean is one of the regions most receptive to this type of product. However, this market has changed drastically due to COVID-19: some resorts and stores have disappeared, and others are emerging,” explains Sandra Russo, convinced that the real challenge today is to conquer these new players. 

The Caribbean is an essential market, the Dominican Republic remains to be explored, especially in its resorts and hotels component, and in the United States, museum shops and marketplaces already offer interesting opportunities. SANDILOU has just created a collection that will be presented this summer at the Smithsonian Institution’s “Artisan Marketplace”. Sandra recalls with nostalgia the fairs which used to be held throughout the Caribbean islands until the arrival of COVID-19: “This is the real meeting place for buyers and artisans. Some things are done online, but us islanders we need the human touch, we need to feel the materials, to meet in the flesh…to know who we are dealing with” So the main challenge for the Haitian small business in 2022 will be to find ways to present its collections and penetrate markets. With a collection of approximately 2,000 to 3,000 original designs in its inventory, SANDILOU will not be short of inspiration and is ready to take up the challenge!