Notes from the Field: Conserving Forests and Creating Livelihoods with Cacao

by Lindsay Saperstone, International Communications Coordinator

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Deep in eastern Honduras, in an area known as the Moskitia, there are very few roads traversing miles of untamed wilderness. Unfortunately, much of that valuable rainforest is rapidly being destroyed as people clear the land to enter the cattle ranching business.  The situation on the beautiful Reserve of Man and the Biosphere of the Río Plátano (known as the Biosphere) is no different, with immense swaths of clear cut forest visible everywhere on this supposedly protected piece of land. Moreover, with the rise of narco-trafficking in this remote region, many of the Biosphere’s inhabitants have increasingly limited options for income aside from joining the drug trade or participating in the destruction of the forests.

rio-platano-biosphere-map

In an effort to combat deforestation and provide an alternative source of income for local farmers, we teamed with GIZ PRORENA to provide tools and technical assistance for the organic cultivation of cacao through agroforestry in the southern and eastern part of the Biosphere. We began by distributing tree bags and seeds, and helped the agricultural cooperatives establish cacao nurseries. They then carefully selected the best land to transplant the trees to, and together the community members worked to plant thousands of trees.

The incentive for protecting the forest is two-fold with cacao. On one hand, it is a high value crop, perhaps the only crop that competes with the income generated by cattle ranching. Moreover, cacao can only flourish under a mature canopy, meaning that in order for farmers to reap the value of their plants they must leave old growth trees standing.

In some areas, where deforestation has already taken a large toll, GIZ PRORENA is helping farmers create temporary shade canopies by planting banana trees alongside the cacao. Banana trees are fast growing, do not require replanting year after year, and provide an additional revenue stream for farmers. In these areas they also are planting mahogany, a hardwood tree that over time will grow and provide long-term or permanent canopy of shade needed for cocoa plants to thrive.

boys help plant cacao trees

In 2013, the project distributed over 230,000 cacao seeds to 261 farmers and planted trees on 536 acres. We look forward to working with our partners to continue protecting this important area while helping to create livelihoods for rural families in Honduras.

Photo of the Week: Tree Nurseries Flourish in Guatemala

Guatemala tree nursery

About this photo

Our reforestation partners in Guatemala, La Asociación de Forestería Comunitaria de Guatemala Ut’z Che’have been very busy this year! Just in 2013, they have already planted 85,450 trees in 4 different communities throughout Guatemala, with more to be planted by the end of the year. Species planted include moringa, lemon, orange, pine, papaya, tamarind, noni, and guanaba.

These trees are important for both environmental protection and economic development. Local communities use these trees to improve watershed and soil health, as fruit orchards, and as future sources of timber and fine hardwood.

To learn more about our work in Guatemala please visit our website.

 

First Look! The National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change

National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change_Nicaragua
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We are working with our long-time NGO partner, Proleña, in Nicaragua, to establish the National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change near La Paz Centro, Nicaragua.

The Center will be an educational resource where communities can learn about managing forests, renewable energy, cleantech, and clean cookstoves. In addition to the core training, we will develop the Center as a global facility, where people from around the world will be empowered with the skills that will help them adapt to climate change in their region.

Features of the National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change:

  • Biomass Forest Plot
  • Classrooms for Trainings & Workshops
  • Clean Cookstoves & Fuel-Efficient Kilns
  • 2kW Photovoltaic System
  • Cleantech Products
  • Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Demos
Nicaragua Climate Change Center
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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.

Agro-Forestry Project in Haiti Moves Forward

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As part of his fellowship with the Center for Collaborative Conservation, International Director Sebastian Africano is working with our partners in Haiti to help local farmers develop more sustainable sources of income by adding diverse, agro-forestry plantations to their current farming practices. This will reduce their reliance on charcoal production and restore forest cover on Haitian landscapes, a country with only 2 percent of natural forest remaining. This proof of concept project will set the stage for a model that can be widely replicated for the purpose of recovering and rehabilitating Haiti’s natural resources while developing sustainable livelihoods for rural smallholders throughout the country.

Sebastian is working with CSU collaborators, including MBA students from the Global, Social and Sustainable Enterprise (GSSE) program, the Engines and Energy Conservation Laboratory (EECL), the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, and the Anthropology Department. In addition, the AMURT and land owners and land users in Haiti will lend support and expertise to the project.

Enjoy these photos from Sebastian’s recent 3-week trip to Haiti!