Haïti - Coffee of Jacmel

Jacmel, (Jakmèl in Kréyòl) is a town in southern Haiti founded in 1698. It is the capital of the department of Sud-Est and has an estimated population of 40,000, while the municipality (commune) of Jacmel had a population of 137,966 at the 2003 Census. The town's name is derived from its indigenous Taíno name of Yaquimel.

The buildings are historic and date from the early nineteenth century; the town has been tentatively accepted as a World Heritage site and UNESCO reports that it has sustained damage in the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The town was founded by Compagnie de Saint-Domingue in 1698 as the capital of the south eastern part of the French colony Saint-Domingue. The area now called Jacmel was Taíno territory of the Xaragua chiefdom ruled by cacique Bohechio. With the arrival of the French, and the later establishment of the town, the French renamed Yaquimel as Jacmel.

City was developed to boost the sugar production and trade but soon it evolved as coffee trading centre. In 1896 it suffered in a major fire, which destroyed most buildings in the city. Soon after Jacmel was rebuilt, often using prefabricated cast-iron pillars and balconies shipped over from France. Many ornate mansions of wealthy coffee merchants from this time have been preserved up to this day without much change and the whole central part of the city has little changed over the last 100 years.

The mansions of Jacmel with their cast-iron furnishings would later come to influence the home structure of much of New Orleans. Today, many of these homes are now artisan shops that sell vibrant handicrafts, papier-mâché masks and carved-wood animal figures. In recent years, efforts have been made to revitalize the once flourishing cigar and coffee industries. The town is a popular tourist destination in Haiti due to its relative tranquility and distance from the political turmoil that plagues Port-au-Prince.

Over the years, this rather small town experienced a number of noted historical events.

Toussaint Louverture fought over Jacmel in the so-called War of Knives between him and his fellow countryman André Rigaud, who wished to maintain authority over the city. This war began in June 1799. By November the rebels were pushed back to this strategic southern port, the defence of which was commanded by Alexandre Pétion. Jacmel fell to Toussaint's troops in February 1800, during which the American warship USS General Greene bombarded the city.[4] After which the rebellion was effectively over. Pétion and other mulatto leaders subsequently went into exile in France.

The port town is internationally known for its very vibrant art scene and elegant townhouses dating from the 19th century. Among the wealth of art and crafts available in Jacmel are the papier-mâché, done by nearly 200 artisans and the reknow Atelier created by Moro Baruk. In recent years Jacmel has been host to a large film festival, the 'Festival Film Jakmèl', started in 2004, and in 2007 the international music festival 'Festival Mizik Jakmèl' was successfully launched. Its carnival, the nearby Bassins Bleus (Haiti's most famous natural deep water pools), and the scenic white sand beaches attract many visitors. The town is regarded as one of the safest in the country and foreign visitors that enter the country in hope of a tranquil time often head for Jacmel. Its urbanization has been increasing in large part due to the income generated by tourism. Royal Caribbean, the leading tourism company whose cruise ships regularly dock at Labadee, plans to add stopovers at Jacmel. In February 2007, Edwin Zenny became the town's newly elected mayor. In addition, the Jacmel Film Festival is held there annually. On January 11, 2010, Choice Hotels announced they would open a 120-room Comfort Inn in Jacmel, the first chain hotel to be opened there in a decade.


Coffee has been a staple of the Caribbean nation of Haiti since its initial colonization by France in the 17th century. Alongside sugar and tobacco, it has long formed the backbone of Haiti's economy. Today, similar to many other Caribbean nations, coffee is one of the nation's most profitable crops. Coffee growth in Haiti is largely a cottage industry, grown by families and farmers, known as pèti plantè in Haitian Creole, in Haiti's Chaîne de la Selle and Massif de la Hotte mountain ranges.

In 1788, Haiti was responsible for half of the world's supply of coffee.Coffee production has been hurt by natural disasters, as well as U.S.-led embargoes against the governments of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier. Jean-Claude Duvalier's dictatorship made it so that the coffee farmers of Haiti were too scared to come down from the mountains to sell their crops. The machinery began to rust and the skills needed to harvest the coffee trees were lost in the generations. Following the movement away from Haitian coffee production, Brazil moved in and took control of the world coffee market.

With brief comebacks in 1850 where coffee was a major export of Haiti or in 1949 when it rose to the world's third major producer, the market has continued to go through continuous boom and bust cycles. Haitian's coffee competitiveness suffered internationally. The continuous shifts in the coffee market lead to Haitian's burning their coffee trees in order to make charcoal, hoping that would improve economic wealth. When Haiti was a main world contributor of coffee, 80 percent of the labour force was involved in agriculture. In the 1980s the percent population that was involved in agriculture dropped down to 66 percent. Those who were not involved in the agriculture aspect still took part in the production of coffee through marketing, middlemen, or exporters. With the implementation of Fair Trade policies, however, the profile of Haitian coffee has grown.

Moving into the twenty-first century the decreasing number of Haitians in the agriculture labour force was due to their harsh climate conditions. Haiti has suffered from soil erosion as well as deforestation which affect the growth of coffee crops. As well as continuous cycles of flooding and droughts, Haiti suffers many natural disasters. In 2010, Haiti was hit by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake which killed many and left the country in devastation. These natural disasters played a large role in the decrease of Haiti's role in world coffee production. Some companies, such as San Francisco Bay Area non-profit company HaitiCoffee.com, have attempted to reintroduce Haitian coffee to major markets.

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