Region: Nord Department
Number of Farmers: 1326
Partner Since: 2015
Cacao Tasting Notes: Dried fig, tart cherry, roasted nuts
Historically, Haiti’s cacao has passed through multiple hands as it makes its way into low-paying commodity markets. Produits Des Iles SA, or PISA, believes that by investing in quality, Haiti can access higher paying specialty markets directly– markets such as Taza Chocolate. PISA’s leadership came together under this shared vision in 2014. Gilbert Gonzales, the company’s Founder and Senior VP, originally drew on his deep coffee sector knowledge to identify the opportunity in cocoa. He brought on Max Vieux, a popular leader raised in the region and recently returned from the US, to direct farmer outreach and operations. Aline Etlicher, a French firecracker experienced in Haitian agriculture, assumed responsibility for the organic program and processing operation. Together, the PISA team exudes charisma and commitment, and visiting them in Haiti’s north is always an impressive experience.
Lush green fields surround PISA’s fermentation and drying facility in the northern Acul du Nord district. Only a half hour away stands Cap-Haïtien, the second largest city in the country with a port from which PISA ships its cacao beans. The cacao comes from over one thousand farms throughout the region, small plots of land with multiple crops planted together. Mangoes, bananas, breadfruit, corn and cassava are just several of the crops grown by farmers in a native agricultural system known as a Creole Garden. Because cacao trees can flourish under limited shade, their cultivation helps protect the 2% of forest that remains dotted across Haiti’s landscape.
Haitian cacao trees share many characteristics with those found across the border in the Dominican Republic. However, until recently, only Dominican cacao received recognition for its fine flavor. This is because in the Dominican Republic, cacao is often fermented and dried, a process required to sell to leading chocolate makers. In Haiti, cacao beans are rarely fermented and as a result, are typically sold at a heavy discount. PISA’s model adds more value. Max’s team drives to hundreds of small farms, transporting producers’ wet cacao to PISA’s processing facility for fermentation and drying under Aline’s careful watch. While challenging, this effort transforms cacao from commodity to specialty-grade; it puts Haiti on the map for Taza Chocolate and other craft chocolate-makers who love Haitian cacao’s tropical fruit flavors.