Ripe for Change: Developing a Sustainable Mango Industry in Haiti
Last week, TechnoServe and The Coca-Cola Company unveiled the Haiti Hope Project, a five-year, $7.5 million project to create new opportunities for 25,000 Haitian mango farmers and their families. Katarina Kahlmann is a TechnoServe volunteer consultant who is helping to implement the Haiti Hope Project.
Katarina previously worked as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, where she focused on economic development and global public health. She supported the Indonesian government in coordinating the reconstruction of Aceh and Nias after the 2004 tsunami. Prior to joining McKinsey, Katarina worked for the United Nations Development Programme at their liaison office in Copenhagen. Katarina holds a master’s degree in economics and business administration from the Stockholm School of Economics, with a focus on development economics.
In the following dispatch, Katarina shares her experiences and impressions of Haiti:
When I left my job as a management consultant three weeks ago, I was not sure whether I had made the right decision. Colleagues and friends asked me why I left the security of an interesting and well-paid job to fly across the Atlantic and work in Haiti as a volunteer. A senior director asked me what I wanted to achieve in the next five years of my life. Slightly overconfident, I answered that I wanted to support a poor country to raise its GDP significantly and help hundreds of thousands of people to rise out of poverty. After three weeks with TechnoServe in Haiti, I am sure I made the right decision.
The objective of our project — the Haiti Hope Project — is to improve the economic situation of small-scale mango farmers. The Coca-Cola Company and the Inter-American Development Bank are funding the project, which aims to double the incomes of 25,000 Haitian mango farmers. TechnoServe will offer technical assistance and be the implementing partner. By increasing the incomes of mango farmers, we hope not only to make them and their families better off, but also to create jobs in adjacent parts of the economy, such as fruit processing and sales.
Since I arrived three weeks ago, I have met many talented Haitians and seen land with great potential for growing cash crops such as mango. Mango is important for Haiti’s economy and mango farmers constitute a significant part of the population. We are working along the entire value chain, from mango trees on small land patches across the country to street sales in Port au Prince; from large exporters belonging to the Haitian elite to end-consumers in developed countries. I have spent the past weeks on the road, visiting farmers, speaking to farmer groups and interviewing mango exporters. The dirt-poor mango farmers living on close to nothing and the wealthy exporters live in two different worlds. In between, there is a small and well-educated middle class.
Despite all their differences, the different social groups have one thing in common: they all want change. Since Haiti was founded in 1804, the country has never had a proper chance to build a well-functioning society. Dictators, corruption, natural disasters and environmental degradation have plagued the country for almost 200 years. The January earthquake wrought widespread destruction, but it also brought about an opportunity for change. Money is flowing into the country and there is strong support to develop the private sector.
In Creole they say: “Yo pa voye wòch sou mango vèt” — literally, “You should not throw rocks at a green mango,” meaning that you should wait until a mango is ripe before you try to knock it down from the tree. Haiti is ripe and ready for change. This is Haiti’s chance to climb out of poverty and devastation. This is the mango season.