Deforestation in Haiti

October 15, 2013

I am seeing two streams of thought and experience as I read background material and as I receive information from people who worked in the field.

The one says that reforestation in Haiti has failed. That over $100m has been spent on reforestation and there is little to show for it, that Haiti is one of the most deforested countries in the world with one of the highest deforestation rates. By the end of the 1980’s, the level of nursery based tree production was around 10 million trees per year, but with a survival rate of between 30-40%. Top down methods were often used along with incentives, paying farmers with ‘Food for Work’ programs. Too rarely were farmers listened to, or their traditional knowledge acknowledged and built on, or their actual needs and decision making-drivers understood. Severe storms, conflict, dependence on charcoal, population pressure to clear more land and higher returns for annual crops have contributed to the current state of deforestation.

Satellite image depicting the border between Haiti (left) and the Dominican Republic (right), 2002. 
(source: Wikipedia)

The other points to pockets of success where farmers have embraced the practice of agroforestry where planting and leaving trees on their farmland makes sense to them – usually economic, but also for soil conservation and other reasons. Where tree species such as mango, cocoa, coconut, citrus, tamarind, avocado provided a clear economic advantage, and in some cases where planting trees for soil conservation purposes made economic sense, the work prospered.

Why this dichotomy and why haven’t the successes spread organically from farmer to farmer? I do not know the full answer to these questions and they would likely involve an in depth study which I don’t have time for, there are clues in the literature and in the shared experience from people who’ve worked in the field.

To the question of what have been the factors contributing to successful projects, a friend wrote:

  • Working with the people; not taking a top down approach, but learning their needs and doing things with them, not for them.
  • Relationship – taking time to get to know people and build trust. This addresses the attitude of our heart (not coming in as experts telling people what to do, but as listeners working with people and building on what people already know).
  • Close and regular follow up on activities, but not to control, more to guide, help and support
  • Providing lots of encouragement (just google Haiti and natural disasters and Haiti and conflict!)
  • The Haitians are spiritual people. Building on this and showing how all of nature is a GOD given gift for our benefit and how we have a responsibility to use sustainably, but not destroy what we have been given.
  • Sustainable and durable concepts need to be taught
  • Avoid using incentives such as food for work. It does not make sense to pay a farmer to work his own ground, this should be his own interest and initiative.

Tony Rinaudo is Natural Resources Advisor in the Food Security and Climate Change Team at World Vision Australia. Tony pioneered FMNR in Niger during the 1980s and his tecniques have been adopted by farmers all over the world. He is currently travelling to Haiti to introduce FMNR and help counteract devastating deforestation.