Climate change in Haiti: Investing in mangos instead of coffee?

12 May, 2014 by (comments)

With approximately 80% of its population living on less than US$2 a day, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas.

The major earthquake that struck the country in 2010 seriously damaged the economy, especially its agriculture, which contributes 25% to the gross domestic product (GDP) and employs almost 58% of the labor force.

As if this were not enough, the same year, a hurricane caused major damage to infrastructure and crops and, in 2012, a series of extreme weather events – including drought, the tropical storm Isaac, and hurricane Sandy – further cut into agricultural output and slowed economic growth.

Haiti’s high exposure to climate risks is obvious. Besides, models predict an average temperature increase of 1.8°C by 2050, a jump in the temperature of the hottest month from 30.9°C to 32.9°C, and a 10% decline in rainfall during the driest month. Understanding the impacts of climate change on the production of Haiti’s high-value crops is therefore imperative.

mango2_cropA recent study by CIAT and Catholic Relief Services analyzed the impacts of future climate conditions on the production of two of Haiti’s most important export commodities: coffee and mango.

In 2011, mango alone generated $11 million of income. The study reveals that, luckily, vagaries in climate do not threaten mango production. Developing the mango value chain – with a focus on organizational and market development through existing collaborative networks, for example – would therefore make a lot of sense.

Coffee exports, on the other hand, have already declined – from $7 to $1 million between 2000 and 2010 – and according to the study, expected changes in temperature and rainfall patterns will cause a general reduction in the areas suitable for cultivating coffee in Haiti.

Currently, coffee grows at altitudes ranging from 400 meters in the North to 1,300 meters in the South. That suitable area will climb to higher elevations, where the climate is cooler. This puts high altitude forests and protected areas at risk of being converted to cropland if these areas become the most suitable for producing coffee as well as dry beans, groundnuts, and yam.

Strategic investments are needed to develop these higher-latitude areas, while taking into account the need to conserve natural resources.

Targeted measures, such as irrigation, shade management, and the adoption of drought-tolerant varieties, are also needed to help maintain coffee production in areas that will become only slightly less suitable.

Coffee growers should start diversifying their production in those areas where coffee suitability is likely to decrease significantly, eventually switching to more suitable crops, such as cocoa, mango, sorghum, or yam once coffee ceases to be fit.

When switching to other crops, however, it is important not to forget that agroforestry systems like coffee production perform important ecosystem services. In this sense, cocoa could be a promising alternative to promote.

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Access CIAT Policy Brief:

Eitzinger A; Läderach P; Carmona S; Collet L; Jean-Simon L; Dufane P; Nowak A. 2014. Haiti: Coffee and mango production under a changing climate. CIAT Policy Brief No.16. Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), Cali, Colombia. 8 p

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Filed Under: Climate Change, Latin America and the Caribbean, Tropical Fruits