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Haiti once produced half the world's coffee. The lush, shade-covered mountainsides provided an ideal environment for coffee crops. Today Haitian coffee barely registers in global surveys. Deforestation and the rise of global coffee powerhouses Brazil and Indonesia are among the reasons. And now, as reporter Peter Granitz reports from Haiti, climate change is another concern.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Singing in foreign language).
PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Women sing Creole folk songs as they examine clusters of coffee cherries. Inside the fruit are pits that will be fermented, roasted, ground and one day brewed as coffee. They pull the bright red ones from branches and toss them into plastic bucket. The local co-op will buy and process these cherries then sell the low-quality beans at local markets. The highest quality will get sold to a non-profit buyer in Madison, Wisconsin.
These trees - narrow shoots no more than 12 to 15 feet high - belong to Enock Telemaque. He's short, jovial and rail-thin. His pants bunch at the waist, held by a belt fastened through the last hole. He says growing, drinking and selling coffee here near Beaumont - one of the few forested parts of Haiti - is part of the culture.
ENOCK TELEMAQUE: (Through translator) Since my childhood I've grown coffee. I grew it with my father and my mother.
GRANITZ: His children grow it too, but his grandchildren may not have that chance. Climate change is pushing up temperatures in Haiti, says Anton Eitzinger with the Center for Tropical Agriculture. That's bad for coffee and for farmers.
ANTON EITZINGER: The coffee's strongly affected by climate change. We need to think about diversification to maybe other crops.
GRANITZ: Valuable crops, such as mangos and cocoa. And for Haitian farmers to continue growing coffee, they're going to have to do it at increasingly higher elevations where the air is cooler. Coffee exports have steadily decreased over the last two decades. They hover around $1 million a year, just a fraction of the global trade.
But to growers like Eliza Bezaire, coffee sales are still a livelihood. She lead us past a cement slab with piles of beans drying in the sun and into her tin roof home to show off a full 60-kilo sack of coffee she harvested, predicting it'll land her three bucks a pound.
ELIZA BEZAIRE: (Through translator) Coffee is the bank account. We send our children to university with coffee.
GRANITZ: She's heard she'll need to make changes, like possibly moving to higher ground. The higher regions will continue to produce coffee. That's where Gilbert Gonzales gets his beans. He's vice president of Rebo, one of the largest buyers in Haiti. Most coffee grown in Haiti gets consumed in Haiti, but Rebo also sells beans to companies in Ireland and Japan. Gonzales says any export is worth the investment because overseas prices are better. He's trying to break into the ultra-competitive West Coast market to sell at stores and high-end cafes.
GILBERT GONZALES: There is a need to modernize. There's a need to increase yield. There is a need to inject confidence in the sector.
GRANITZ: So he's making the jump into farming. Rebo is creating three demonstration farms at higher elevations around Haiti, places to teach farmers how to grow coffee Rebo can sell globally.
GONZALES: Buyers will feel more confident knowing that Haitian firms are investing in production.
GRANITZ: Gonzales calls it an investment in the future.
For NPR News I'm Peter Granitz in Port au Prince.
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