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#1878: Haiti's mango industry on the rebound (fwd)
From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>
January 12-19, 2000
Crushed during the embargo,
Haiti's mango industry rebounds
By Jennifer Bauduy
Haitian Times Staff
Croix-des-Bouquets -- Ripe, juicy mangos burst from tree branches around
Haiti ready to be picked by small farmers, sold to intermediaries and
carried in baskets on the heads of women traveling to markets. Mango
season has arrived.
One of the few bright spots in Haiti's meager economy, Haiti's mango
industry is on the rebound after a catastrophic demise earlier this
decade. Haiti was once one of the biggest exporters of mangos in the
Americas, but a U.S.-led embargo (1991-1994) to bring down a military
dictatorship had disastrous effects on Haiti's economy, including the
near total destruction of the mango industry.
"We used to have the November to February market almost exclusively, in
that period only Haiti had mangoes, but during the embargo countries
searched for other markets. Now Central America took it and we can't
compete," said Wilhelm Reimers, owner of Caribbean Produce, a fruit and
vegetable exporting company. With 10,000 mango trees planted on a
plantation in Croix-des-Bouquets, and 15,000 trees planted in Cabaret,
Caribbean Produce is one of Haiti's largest mango exporters and the only
mango exporter that has its own plantations.
Haiti's nine other mango exporters purchase the fruit from individual
small farmers to export. After years of struggle, Haiti's mango exports
are finally on the rise again. Mango is today an industry that employs
some 400,000 people during harvest. It has become the country's second
largest agricultural export product after coffee, according to the
Agriculture Ministry. In 1997, mangos brought nearly $8 million annual
revenue to Haiti.
Caribbean Produce employs some 400 workers in high season, but maintains only about 30 employees during the "dead" season. The company, which exported 650,000 boxes of mangos a year before the embargo, now exports some 300,000 boxes. "There is a greater demand for mangos but not enough supply. During the embargo a lot of people chopped down mango trees to build boats to leave," Reimers said. "I can't get enough mangos to ship," he said. He said starting his own plantation was not only a solution to supply problems but also helps Haiti's devastated
environment. "We've re-forested the area. Ten thousand trees in one area
-- you can't miss it," he said.
Inside the mango packing plant, as many as 550,000 mangos can be treated each week in a hot water-tank to kill any bacteria, before being treated in a hydro-cooler that lowers their temperature to 55 degrees Fahrenheit for conservation. "We were the first country that studied the hot water treatment to move away from using pesticides ... now all the countries
in the world who export to the United States are obligated to use hot
water," Reimers said. The mangos are then taken overland to a port in
neighboring Dominican Republic to be shipped to the United States, or
they are flown out of Haiti on cargo planes. In 1999, Haiti exported 2.2
million boxes of mangos, each packed with 10 to 14 mangos.
That number is up from 1.4 million in 1997, and 1.5 million in 1998.
"It's our good luck that people like the Francis mango best, it has more
fiber," Reimers said. Mangos that are common in other Caribbean
countries have a reddish color and are not as popular as the Francis
mango (also called Madame Francique or Francine) only found in Haiti,
according to Reimers. In order to be competitive in the mango market,
Haiti's ten producers must pool together $450,000 a year to keep a U.S.
Department of Agriculture official and his or her staff on site in Haiti
for producers to be allowed to export to the U.S.
A single Francis mango sells on Haiti's streets for 60 cents. Reimers
buys the mangos wholesale, a dozen for $1.50. Depending on the season a
single ango in the United States sells for 99 cents to $1.10 or
sometimes $2. There are some 140 varieties of mangos in Haiti, according
to the Agriculture Ministry. Next year the mango trees on the
Croix-des-Bouquets plantation will be five years old and ready to
At five years old, a mango tree will produce 20 exportable boxes of
mangos. At eight-years-old, when the trees reach full production, they
will produce some 50 boxes each. Some 200,000 mangos or 20,000 boxes are exported out of Caribbean Produce a week. Reimers said in order for
Haiti to gain back the portion of the world mango market it once
dominated, other Haitian exporters must start their own plantations.
"This is the future of the industry. You have to be able to give the
clients guarantees -- volume, quality, regularity. The only way to
control all this is if you have your own plantation," he said. Other
exporters, fearing Haiti's social instability, have resisted investing
further in the country.
The biggest obstacle to the success of Haiti's mangos, according to
Reimers, is an unreliable transport industry. "The problem we have here
is with the transport agencies," said Reimers, who added that the
companies require mangos be delivered two hours before take-off, and the
fruit are left sitting in the sun on the airplane runway. "Sometimes
when the load reaches the U.S. the whole first row of mangos are
ruined," he said, adding that he had lost tens of thousands of dollars
in mangos because of a cargo company, which brought the mangos to the
U.S. but did not deliver them to their site, or inform the client that
they had arrived. "The transporters are irresponsible -- they take the
mangos, they don't deliver them, they ruin them, but they don't care,"
he said. He said Haitian authorities, which grant licenses to cargo
companies, must regulate them. "We are working hard to increase mangos
but another sector is destroying it," he said.
The Haitian Times
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