Notes from the Field: Drought Creates More Urgency for Crop Diversification in Nicaragua

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

reforestation Nicaragua

Trees, Water & People (TWP) has supported reforestation activities in Nicaragua since 2001, partnering with Proleña to produce trees commercially for Forest Replacement Associations, made up of farmers who are local to each of three tree nurseries.  The nurseries were strategically located in communities outside of Managua that are known for biomass dependent industries – one is ground zero for wood fired ceramics in the country, another houses quicklime producers (calcium oxide from limestone) and the third is in a region with a high level of firewood extraction for sale to the urban masses.

In all three areas where we conduct our work, TWP and Proleña have created a non-profit, independent association of consumers and producers of trees and linked them so that they can produce their fuel locally with fast-growing species, rather than depend on trees from Nicaragua’s dwindling forests.  This creates a new income stream for local farmers, and reduces the carbon footprint of the participating industries.  It also opens the door for engaging the community to plant fruit trees, hardwood trees, and fast-growing timber trees produced at the same nurseries.

Currently, farmers throughout the Caribbean and Meso-America are experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent memory.  Rainy season is three months late, causing massive crop failures and putting pressure on other livelihood activities.  While tragic, this is why TWP encourages farmers to diversify their income streams via tree planting and agro-forestry, because once trees are established, they require less irrigation and maintenance, and are more resilient than seasonal crops.  As climate change rears its ugly head, we will continue to provide communities with strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change on their livelihoods and communities.

All together now…PLANT MORE TREES!




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, with “Haiti Trees” in the comment field.

Photo of the Week: Tree Planting in Honduras

In partnership with the National Agricultural University in Catacamas, TWP works with Honduran school children to plant trees in their communities.

Notes from the Field: Tree Planting on the Pine Ridge Reservation

By Megan Maiolo, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

June 6th, 2011: Pine Ridge Reservation, SD

We spent the last 4 days on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Lakota.  With the help of over 20 volunteers, we planted 94 trees around homes on the Reservation.  These trees will provide families with windbreak from the bitter winter winds, shade from the intense summer heat, and, most importantly, the beauty of nature around homes.

TWP Board President Jon Becker plants trees with Noah Red Cloud in the Fraggle Rock neighborhood on Pine Ridge.

The majority of the trees were planted in the Fraggle Rock neighborhood, where many of the homes have been built by Alliance Builders, a great nonprofit based in Pine Ridge.  After we were finished we enjoyed a community potluck, drum circle, and fire show.  Celebrating the work with the communities we serve was the most rewarding part of this experience.

Pine Ridge is a magical place; the energy you feel when you are among the Lakota, our Nation’s First People, is powerful and often hard to describe.  The Lakota have a strong connection to the land, physically and spiritually, a connection that American society could greatly benefit from if it was explored and respected more.  This is a group of people that thrived on the Great Plains for thousands of years, up until the late 1800’s, when they were systematically slaughtered and pushed off their land by the U.S. government.  This genocide culminated with the massacre at Wounded Knee in the winter of 1890.  Since this time, the Lakota have been struggling to survive and preserve their culture.

The Tree Huggers!

Although this is the poorest place in the U.S., the Lakota are hopeful that positive change will come to their people, bringing with it a sense of healing for one of the most oppressed groups of people in this Nation’s history.

Thank you to our partner and dear friend Henry Red Cloud for hosting us and opening up his property for us to camp on.  In addition, we would like to send warm thank yous to all of our Lakota friends who accepted us into their community with open arms.  We are looking forward to the next trip to Pine Ridge, where we can share in the activities that make this a better place to live!

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Journey to the Home of the Oglala Lakota

Join Trees, Water & People on a journey to the home of the Oglala Lakota for the 2011 Lakota Adventure.  From September 11th-17th we will be taking guests to the Pine Ridge Reservation to experience the strength, pride, humor and enduring culture of the Oglala Lakota. Despite hardship, the Lakota have nourished and preserved their spirituality, culture and ties with their land.

Learn about TWP’s Tribal Lands Renewable Energy Program, help build solar air heaters, and plant trees for wind breaks and shade at a local families home.  In addition, we will travel to Wounded Knee and other cultural and historical sites to learn about the Lakota culture, past and present.