On a good day, the 100-mile drive from Gros Morne, a mango-growing region in northwestern Haiti, to Port-au-Prince takes just under three hours. Six years ago, before key stretches of RN1, Haiti’s main highway, were repaired, the same trip entailed a seven-hour, jarring ride.

The relatively shorter and smoother trip, an outcome of persistent investment in the country’s transportation infrastructure, is an indication of how some things have indeed improved since Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010.

Gros Morne also happens to be one of the locations where the Haiti Hope project took place. Six years ago, I was in Davos with Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, and former TechnoServe CEO Bruce McNamer, talking about what could be done to help Haiti, which was still in the throes of a humanitarian emergency. Beyond making donations to organizations better equipped to deal with the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, how could we help the country get back on its feet?

From that conversation, the Haiti Hope project was born. Drawing from Coca-Cola’s and TechnoServe’s experience in East Africa, where they had trained small-scale farmers to produce export-quality fruit, we established a partnership in collaboration with USAID, TechnoServe and Coca-Cola with the ambitious goal of boosting the incomes of 25,000 Haitian farmers.

Download a Haiti Hope fact sheet here.

Haiti is a prolific producer of mangoes. One variety, known as Francique, fetches the highest prices for that fruit in the United States. Growing mangoes is a seasonal sideline for most Haitian farmers, who typically own just a few trees. But with proper training, organization and access to timely and accurate market information, they should be able to extract more value from their production, while acquiring tools and skills that could be applied to other crops and activities.

Haiti Hope got underway in 2010, attracting additional support from other organizations including the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, the Haitian microlender Sogesol and Whole Foods, among others. After five years, the Haitian project has reached several milestones, but it has also had to overcome all kinds of hurdles. For instance, in the beginning, only one mango exporter was willing to work with the project. Now the majority of them are on board.

IDB Haiti Hope Event

Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent speaks at a Feb. 29 event in Washington, D.C. commemorating the Haiti Hope Project. He is joined by USAID Administrator Gayle Smith (left), President and CEO of TechnoServe William Warshauer and IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno. 

The project boosted the production of certified fair trade and organic mangoes, which carry a price premium over conventional fruit, and expanded a traceability system in the Haitian mango value chain. Francique mangoes grown by Haiti Hope farmers are now found every year at upscale supermarkets such as Whole Foods. In addition, the project succeeded in introducing thousands of farmers to the workings of microcredit, which they’re now using wisely and productively.

Naturally, much of the credit for any progress goes to the farmers themselves. But some should also be attributed to the project’s partners, who supported it through thick and thin -- even when some expectations were dashed. For example, Coca-Cola’s expertise was instrumental in evaluating the feasibility of producing mango pulp in Haiti. In the end, after a thorough financial and feasibility study, the idea did not make business sense. But it was worth exploring. We’re now getting ready to evaluate the entire project, which has been the subject of a Harvard Business School case study recently published.  

Haiti Hope is now in its final stage, usually the trickiest one for a development project, as it must take every effort to ensure its sustainability – its survival without further donations. An exit business strategy has been drafted and is ready to be implemented by Haitian organizations willing to take on the challenge, including those exporters who have benefited from the project.

We will see the fruits of this transition in a few years. The same goes for the more than 70,000 Francique saplings planted under the Haiti Hope project.

Luis Alberto Moreno is president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).