Notes from the Field: Reforestation Brings Economic and Environmental Benefits to Haiti

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

A desert brush fire in the northwest of Haiti foreshadows the scene I returned to when I flew back to my home town of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Usually when I return to Colorado from an extended period abroad, I notice many differences, and breathe a sigh of relief as I enter the world of the predictable, the reliable and the comfortable.  However, as I left the airport in June 2012, after my 4 week stay in Haiti, there was a striking similarity in the air that brought my work full circle.  It was sunset, and 70 miles northwest of Denver International Airport, I could see the tremendous smoke cloud of the High Park fire, burning the parched forests just miles from my home in Fort Collins, CO.

After the fires in our state, heavy rains brought thousands of tons of blackened sediment and tree parts into homes, over roads, onto agricultural fields, debilitating these vulnerable communities even further. From one natural disaster to another, severe swings in weather patterns like the ones we have seen recently in Colorado can be brutally destructive to people in all walks of life.  Sadly, this debilitation is almost a yearly occurrence in the remote and remarkably barren wilds of northwest Haiti, where I spent 3 weeks before returning to safe, reliable and predictable (!!!) Colorado.

The hills of Petit Boise, in the northwest region of Haiti, are dry and barren from prolonged drought.

All of Haiti is experiencing a severe drought at the moment – a condition which puts agriculturally dependent communities in the crosshairs of hunger and destitution.  The irony is that they are on the cusp of hurricane season, which almost always swings the pendulum too far in the opposite direction – flooding communities, causing landslides and ruining already mangled roadways.  These extremes cause incredible unpredictability in what to (attempt to) grow, how to save, how to plan, and who of the family to keep in school, to send to the fields, or to send to the city for a “better” life.  There are no guarantees, and no easy ways to reduce risk to one’s livelihood.

Trees, Water & People, CSU’s Global Social Sustainable Enterprise MBA, and the Center for Collaborative Conservation are working with TWP local partners AMURT and LOCAL to address this extreme vulnerability in northwest Haiti.

Working with AMURT extentionists to learn how to utilize GPS technology to map farm lands in the region.

From our years of experience working with trees and biomass energy as a renewable resource, we are engaging struggling farmers throughout the region to examine their land and their agricultural productivity, seeking to dedicate under-utilized portions of their land to tree farming.  Trees over 5 years of age can provide myriad benefits in food security, income stability, and soil conservation and sustained yield management can ensure these benefits are provided over generations.

This tree nursery in Lagon, Haiti produces tens of thousands of valuable fruit and hardwood trees throughout the year, benefiting both people and the fragile environment of northwest Haiti.

By focusing on the economic benefits that trees provide over time (fuel, fruit, poles, lumber) and the environmental benefits (soil conservation, soil rehabilitation, water retention, shade), we are making the argument that banking value in trees will have a net positive impact on regional sustainability and economy over time.  By providing the right incentives, the right team of local extensionists to provide technical support, access to high-quality seedlings from our tree-nurseries, and building wealth through self-driven community savings and loans groups, we are creating the foundation necessary to get farmers on board, and to plant and care for trees as if their future depended on it.

To be part of bringing positive change to northwest Haiti, please donate to TWP on our homepage at www.treeswaterpeople.org, with “Haiti Trees” in the comment field.

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treeswaterpeople

Trees, Water & People is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to developing sustainable community-based conservation solutions.

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