Mar 12
March 12, 2013

Tobin Bickley

Chief Operating Officer, La Colombe Coffee Roasters

Rebuilding Haiti’s Coffee Industry


It is widely known in the coffee industry (and within the agricultural community) that Haiti was once responsible for half of the world’s coffee production. Despite a terroir—that is, soil type, topography, and climate—that replicates nirvana for anything agricultural, Haitian coffee remains a rarity outside of its own beautiful borders.

These facts, or ingredients, in the mind of a coffee roaster (or any entrepreneur), smell of opportunity. Hence, in 2010 we scoured the mountains surrounding Thiotte for the long-forgotten heirloom typica coffee that once buttressed the Haitian coffee industry.  

Four containers (roughly 150,000 pounds) and three years later, we are in full throttle of a sustainable and profitable CSR model, supplying exquisite Haitian coffee to some of the most discriminating palettes in the US  (Jean Georges, Daniel Boulud, Gordon Ramsay, Four Seasons Resorts, and Joel Robuchon, to drop a few names) while directing the flow of funds to those most deserving ... the farmers.

The agricultural sector, in my belief, is the economical and social base on which every nation has been (re)built. This remains especially true for Haiti, given the well known environmental and high urban population challenges. How beautifully intuitive of the Clinton Foundation to support investments in the sector that most directly, in a linear and simple sense, spur the agricultural economy, create focus on the environment, generate jobs in the country (aka free up pressure on urban centers) and utilize the natural resource of Haiti's terroir.

Yes, challenges exist in any cross-border, international business. However, this is also where the Clinton Foundation flexes its proverbial muscles and where our partnership has flourished. The Clinton Foundation has been a visionary solution-provider at every imaginable crossroad, and has provided a path to navigate through logistics, energy, education, finance, sales, and marketing … you get the point.

Invest in Haiti, and you too will see.

Photo credit: Nico O'Connell / Partner at La Colombe

On March 10 and 11, 2013, President Clinton visited agricultural sites across Haiti to help bring international investments to strengthen the country’s agricultural sector, support the environment, and promote job creation. While he was there, President Clinton announced that the Clinton Foundation is providing more than $700,000 in targeted grants that will continue to develop sustainable agricultural solutions for Haiti. Coffee roasting company, La Colombe and the Leslois Shaw Foundation are working in partnership with the Foundation to launch a 30-acre coffee farm and coffee academy that will create community resources; improve farmers' income, training, and agricultural extension services for the surrounding area; and work to advance quantity and quality of coffee yields.