PICTURE IT: two boys standing on the patchy front lawn on the small coffee farm of Lindor Wisly, in Dondon, northeast Haiti.
One is Mr. Wisly’s son and is tall, what you might call a bean pole. He looks healthy and exuberant, and has an infectious smile. The other child is smaller, more reserved. He keeps a straight face and shies away from the crowd gathered at Mr. Wisly’s home to watch the filming of an LWR video about coffee farming.
As I watched the scene from Mr. Wisly’s front porch, a coworker asked me, “Of those two boys, which do you think is older?”
I guessed Mr. Wisly’s son, who looked seven or eight to the smaller boy’s five or six. I was wrong.
“The smaller boy is three years older. His family isn’t in the project. I don’t think he gets enough to eat.”
I never got the full story on that boy and I never saw him again after that day. But that experience stuck with me. In my time at LWR I have come to realize all our projects either directly or indirectly fight hunger.
But even today thinking about that shy little boy adds new layers of understanding of our work with coffee farmers around the world. Like all other farmers they, too, depend on their land to feed and support their families.
So helping coffee families improve their livelihoods is also work to fight hunger.
FEEDING COFFEE, FEEDING FAMILIES
Like his son, Lindor Wisly (who insisted we simply call him Wisly) is tall, slim and energetic, especially when talking about his family and the life they are building together on his small farm. His plot of land is no bigger than a subdivision lot here in the United States, but he has big dreams for it.
“I work on my coffee every day,” he says. “I also have plantains and yams. I hope to have more gardens soon.”
For the first time in years he’s beginning to see real progress with his farm and his income. But overall, his life hasn’t been easy.
“I’m the only child my mother has left,” Wisly told us. “She had many children, all of them died.” His father left his mother to raise him alone and throughout his life they struggled. For years Wisly tried unsuccessfully to grow coffee and other crops, but the long hours and countless energy he put into his crops still wasn’t enough to make ends meet.
Rick Peyser, LWR’s senior manager for coffee & cocoa, says many factors play into coffee farmers’ economic vulnerability. Coffee remains a top export for Haiti but over the last few decades the country has seen a sharp decline in production, due to changes in climate, crop disease, and other factors.
For farmers, those changes have hit hard.
“Studies have shown that many farming families struggle with food insecurity three to eight months every year,” Peyser says. “During those ‘thin months,’ farmers will use their limited resources to feed their families before ‘feeding’ their coffee, which has a cyclical effect on coffee quality and farmer earnings.”
To make a lasting difference, we must work both to improve coffee farmers’ livelihoods and their household food security.
To help farmers in Haiti, we are working with local partner RECOCARNO – a network of coffee cooperatives operating in northeast Haiti – to reach 6,500 coffee farmers. The goal is to help them rehabilitate their coffee farms from the effects of climate change and crop disease, diversify their crops for better income and food security, and strengthen the cooperatives in which they work, so they can continue to improve long into the future.
Farmers like Wisly are learning to plant fruit trees, not only to harvest the fruit to eat and sell but also to provide the shade their coffee trees need to thrive. Farmers are also learning how to protect their trees from an air-borne crop disease called leaf rust, which can wipe out whole coffee farms and years of production. Education about the various parts of the coffee value chain – all the steps in producing coffee from crop to cup – and about things they can do in the planting, harvesting and processing phases, help to preserve and even increase the value of their coffee.
At the cooperative level, the project is working to provide better post-harvest processing facilities and also helping to engage and support more women farmers.
Wisly says the help he’s received has been a game-changer.
“Back in the day I worked for the sake of working. With these new techniques I’ve learned, I can see the improvements,” he says.
Walking through his garden, I could see them too. His coffee was not yet ready for harvest but branches were laden with little green cherries waiting to turn ripe red. He had both mature and young plantain trees growing alongside his coffee, along with mangoes and a few other kinds of fruit.
But to me, the most striking testament to the progress of Lindor Wisly came back to that tall, healthy, “bean pole” son of his. It is for him that Wisly now works long hours every day. The difference now is that he has more to show for it.
PROVIDING FOR THE FUTURE
Things are still challenging for Wisly and other Haitian coffee farmers. Leaf rust and climate change continue to threaten their production capacity and, thus, their income potential. LWR and RECOCARNO are working with farmers on strategies to help mitigate those circumstances, so farmers can keep moving forward.
Your support has helped Wisly remain hopeful about the future and very proud of what he’s accomplished so far.
“One thing that makes me feel really proud is that I can take care of my child’s needs,” he says, “If he tells me he needs something, the minute he asks, I buy it for him. That makes me happy.”