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#250: Bicycles and bike knowledge to Haiti (fwd)

From: Charles Arthur - Haiti Support Group <haitisupport@gn.apc.org>

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a US
charity which promotes sustainable transportation, and Re-Cycle, a UK
charity relieving poverty by taking second-hand bicycles overseas, are
working together on a project in Haiti.

For information about the project to establish two bicycle education
facilities within two schools in Haiti, see

The first facility will be at a Haitian Resource Development Foundation
(HRDF) sponsored school in Aquin; the second facility will be at St. Esprit
College, Cap Haitien. The facilities will be capitalized with two shipments
of bicycles, parts and tools. The first, a joint ITDP/Re~Cycle shipment,
will arrive in Port-au-Prince in June from London. The second, a joint
ITDP/Bikes not Bombs shipment, arrives Fall 1999 in Cap Haitien. It is
likely that most of the contents from the first container will go to outfit
the school in Aquin; most of the contents of the second container will go
to the St. Esprit school in Cap Haitien. 

By way of a taster, I include below an interview with one of the leaders of
the MPP peasant organisation who is working to provide bikes to its
members. The MPP is in the process of collaborating with Re-Cycle's US
partner, ITDP.

Interview with Bazelais Jean-Baptiste (BJB) by Paul White (PW):

PW:  What is MPP?

BJB:  MPP, which loosely translates: Papaye Peasant Movement, is Haiti's
oldest and largest peasant (farmer) organization.  I am the Economic
Development Project Coordinator.  In addition to running MPP's bicycle
program, I work on our efforts to make our ceramics and beekeeping
endeavors to make them more profitable.

PW:  You are now importing new bikes from Taiwan.  Are you still interested
in used bikes?

BJB: Yes, of course, and we are willing to help pay for a shipment-- but
only if they are mountain bikes with one-piece cranks.  The last container
we received from ITDP was not very good.  Many of them were rusted (the
chains especially) and they were too expensive to fix.  Moreover, many of
the bikes would not sell; some of them sold for only $20US!   Unless you
ship the kind of bikes people want, you don't even cover your costs.  The
last container from ITDP was also overvalued; ITDP put the value of each
bike at $100, which needlessly increased the duty.

Also, lots of Haitians are bringing used bikes into the US (some rumored
stolen in Florida) in the backs of trucks that are shipped from Miami.
Because they are in the backs of trucks, the bikes come in virtually
duty-free.  Also, many used bikes are coming over on "Miami River" boats,
which provide cheaper shipping than insured container shipping.  This route
is risky though.

PW:  Tell me more about your new bike company.

BJB:  The name of our new company is Astral Bicycle Cooperative, which was
enabled by a $120,000 low interest loan (5%) procured with help from Louise
Bowditch in Boston.  The loan enabled us to import 870 new Taiwanese
one-piece crank mountain bikes from Taiwan (Japan does not ship to Haiti)
in 60' of container space.  The new bikes are easier to service because of
uniformity of parts, and we are also obviously able to control what kinds
of bikes we get.  Because tools to repair bikes are scares, the simpler the
bike the better (hence the desirability of one-piece cranks).

After figuring all of our costs, we set the price of a new Astral bike at
$379 Haitian dollars ($125 US).  With rack, mudguards and water bottle, the
bikes sold for $410 Haitian dollars ($136 US)  

PW:  Did the bikes sell?

BJB:  Not at first; most people cannot afford that up front.  We talked to
FOKAL (a Soros-funded NGO) about helping us administer a micro-finance
program, but eventually ended up microfinancing the bikes to people
affiliated with MPP in three installments. (most of these people live in
and around Papay)  Then we sold all of the bikes.  The payback rate is
close to 100%, since we know everyone.  We also sold 15 of our bikes in
Milot, 20 in Cap Haitien, 30 in St. Marc and 25 in Gonaive. These bikes we
sold outright with no financing. (total 90 bikes) We also sold 100
fully-loaded (racks,etc.) bikes to a FOKAL-sponsored development project in
Hench for $350 Haitian dollars a piece ($116 US)  They were going to
purchase a bus to get kids to their school, but found that it was way more
cost effective to go with our bikes instead.  Summary:  870 bikes imported,
680 sold with financing, 100 sold in bulk, 90 sold outright)

PW:  What next?

We want to build our capacity to repair bikes.  Bikes in Haiti are
plentiful compared to tools.  We also are looking into importing tires,
tubes, spokes and seats from Indonesia (these are the most in-demand
items).  We are looking to import another 500 Taiwanese bikes in May.  All
870 bikes from our first shipment sold out.

We also have a grant pending with Interamerican Development Foundation to
establish bike shop cooperatives in all major population centers in Haiti,
which will also house bike training for youth.  The mayor of Hinche has
already given his support for this initiative.  The proposal also includes
a project to research what we can do to bring improved cargo-bike
technology to Haiti.

PW: What are your most pressing needs right now?

A program to train youth in bicycle mechanics, capacity to build and sell
cargo bikes; getting factory seconds from US bike industry (which we have
money to pay for); tools, tools, tools; instructional materials in Creole. 

Haiti Support Group    (haitisupport@gn.apc.org)