Dissertation Defense: Cynthia Balthazar

September 30, 2019 8:30 AM

Natural Resources Building, 480 Wilson Road, Room 130, East Lansing, MI 48824

Coffee, Gender and Sustainability in Rural Haiti: Finding Meanings for “Success” in Sustainability Through a Gendered Lens


Haiti has seen development aid pouring in over many decades, yet it remains the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Coffee played an important economic and cultural role in Haiti, with a peak of $90 million in exports in the 1980s, but then fell to only $3 million by the early 2000s, according to the World Bank. Today, much of Haiti’s land is in the hands of small growers, with women often carrying great burdens for production/marketing and for family roles, in spite of few women holding the title to their land. The purpose of my research is to investigate: coffee growers’ and agronomists’ perceptions of sustainability of communities and environments, the status of gender equity within coffee growing communities, and lessons learned for application in other sustainable development projects. My research questions center around: how do male and female growers perceive “success” in sustainability, how do they perceive supports received from the association and cooperative, and has thinking about the sustainable coffee economy changed over time?

My research includes growers in Haiti who are members of a Fair Trade association, those who belong to a cooperative of coffee growers, and growers who are independent of either organization. I conducted an in-depth, qualitative investigation using a grounded theory approach. Interview questions considered growers’ perceptions of sustainable community development “success,” regeneration of the environment, and gendered aspects of coffee production. I interviewed 43 individuals during September-October 2018. Interviewees included 37 growers as well as local agronomists, and association coordinators. I then translated and transcribed the recorded interviews and used MAXQDA for coding and analysis of the qualitative data.

Findings suggest that Haitian agronomists and growers have a keen sense of climate change effects on livelihoods in coffee, even as they struggle to feed and educate their families. Women, who hold unique positions as being both marginalized and key to the survival of the rural family and economy, are awakening to the possibilities for their own futures. Organizations, in place for the purposes of providing technical assistance to coffee growers and connecting them to international markets, are recognizing that they should offer training focused on women, but struggle to do so. My research identified issues regarding coffee and its perceived importance as a cash crop in the Haitian countryside, and its relevance for the survival and sustainability of rural communities. As a result, I was able to discern stories about coffee farmers’ journeys toward a more resilient and sustainable Haiti. The resulting theory that emerged from my research lifts up the voices of farmers’ striving for sustainability as they work with community developers. In addition, I provide insights from my research for coffee association and cooperative staff involved in community development.

Committee Members

  • Dr. Murari Suvedi, Chairperson
  • Dr. Shari Dann, Dissertation Advisor
  • Dr. John Kerr
  • Dr. Mywish Maredia
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Tags: coffee, department of community sustainability, gender, haiti, sustainability

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