My fellow Science blogger Eric Michael Johnson has a superb post up about possible strategies for reforestation in Haiti – and the enormous economic barriers to doing so:
In other words, by providing a 25% subsidy for seed and a 75% subsidy for fertilizers both large and small farms would improve their income while at the same time improving the conditions of their environment. These subsidies would also be less expensive than the current practice of punishing infractions.
“The modeling results indicate that agricultural subsidies tied to forest conservation can provide opportunities for addressing land degradation problems without adversely impacting the welfare of the people. . . The mix of seed and fertilizer policy instrument is recommended since it is costless and seems likely more affordable than the other policies by the Haitian government.”
There is a significant problem however. As I pointed out in my article, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund prevent the Haitian government from giving subsidies to their farmers. This has left the Haitian government with no option other than to use the inefficient method of punishment and taxation in order to prevent harm. As world leaders are currently assembled in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, it is important for them to reconsider some of the policies that have kept Haiti from using strategies that are in their long term interest. Conservation is essential for the island’s sustainability. By employing smart subsidies perhaps the Haitian people can begin to recover after several decades of short-sighted restrictions implemented by international bureaucrats.
One can and certainly should pressure the IMF and the World Bank to change policies, not to mention the US to redirect its aid, but let’s not hold our breath here. What this also seems to be is a potentially remarkable opportunity for creative social justice work. That is, if the Haitian government can’t do it, perhaps a portion of the millions of people who want to help Haiti can, providing tree seedlings and agricultural subsidies to people already working on the deforestation problem in Haiti.
We can also move towards woody plants that provide food as well – the emphasis in the Green Belt Movement in Kenya has been both on replanting trees for forestation and also on the food and coppiced fuels one can derive from them. Tree crops can provide much needed food and fuel, as well as erosion control – even grazing for livestock. It need not be a matter of persuading farmers to give up anything, so much as providing them with the correct plant material to work from.