Reversing Deforestation in Haiti

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.


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.....and that the farmers (or the government) of Haiti not be forced to buy crop seed from Monsanto so that the farmers could go back to the practice of saving seed for the next crop.

By Sue in pacNW (not verified) on 28 Jan 2010 #permalink

My understanding is that much de-forestation in Haiti is due to the use of trees for making charcoal to cook with. Solar ovens could help mitigate deforestation there. I'm sure there are many NGO's working towards this. Here's one that I know about

Thanks for this, Coturnix - I've corrected the omission.


One of my favorite charities - Plant with Purpose, which just changed it's name from Floresta, donates seedlings and does agroforestry training.

They're currently fundraising for immediate relief along with long term programs. Here is the link to their special Haiti page:

They have local projects in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, but I've been giving to their Haiti program for a while - you can donate to specific programs in other places as well.

Thanks for the link Sharon. You have an excellent suggestion about people taking matters into their own hands. Do you have any information about grassroots movements in Haiti that are doing this work? The standard model of providing aid, coming as it does from international organizations, gets eaten up in bureaucratic costs and is less efficient since the aid workers don't always know the local context. Homegrown organizations in Haiti would be the best place to create lasting change.

--"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."--

So. Have you, commenters? At a "feedback" rate of far less than 1/1,ooo,ooo -
of feedback is significant. Speak up, folks.

I wrote a note on my Facebook page musing about whether there is a permaculture design school in Haiti, or whether the permaculture people are planning to go to work there. From the little I've learned about it, permaculture could be a hands-on method for Haitians to take control of their own destiny, grow food for themselves, and restore the ecology of their devastated corner of the earth. And it could be done without the interference of the IMF. Keeping Haiti enslaved to the world banking system is the LAST thing the Haitians need!

Here is a link to an organization that is seeking to rebuild Haiti's depleted soils literally from the ground up. It's called SOIL and is using humanure toilets to produce compost.

Haiti's population was estimated to be 8.94 million in 2008, with a population density of 322 people per square kilometer. The average Haitian woman will bear 4.94 children in her lifetime for an annual population growth rate of 3.5%. The median age of a Haitian is 18.2 years and the life expectancy of a Haitian is 53.2 years. 47% of the Haitian population over 15 years old is illiterate and 60% of the population lacks access to safe drinking water. At the time of European contact virtually all of Hispanola was forested. Today less than 2% of Haiti is forested and all old growth forest is long gone. During the 1980s the USAID's Agroforestry Outreach Program provided 25 million trees for planting in Haiti. During the time this program was in operation, an estimated seven trees were cut down for each tree planted. Need I go on...?

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 29 Jan 2010 #permalink


Permaculture Haiti:

There have also been some permaculturists there before this particular iteration of disaster. One, Flores McGarrell, who called himself an agrisculptor, died in the earthquake.

I also wonder about land tenure which is a big issue in a lot of places. Does anyone know if this is a factor contributing to rural poverty in Haiti?

On the topic of healthcare in Haiti not reforestation -- Acupuncturists without Borders is sending practitioners to Haiti to treat survivors and caregivers. They have worked with Katrina survivors and caregivers, as well as with returning military personnel. This is a health care practice that will come in handy when petroleum's no longer cheap and plentiful.

Re: permaculture in Haiti. Thanks for the information--and the link.

Ok. Yes, Haiti needs trees, very badly indeed. For all the usual reasons.

Now- a little sacrilege. "Tree planting" programs are 90% a pure waste of money, time, and human passion.

At least the ones I'm familiar with, and I admit freely I've been ignoring the field recently.

Let's go back and look at the problem again. What is the need? Trees.

What do tree planting programs provide? Employment, and seedlings. (hint: not trees)

From there, the discussion gets huge, and often defensive - "OUR program does too provide community follow-through!" etc.

Just saying. Trees are a VERY long term commitment- and I want results judged at the 30 year level, not 10, not 20. 50 is better, but we have to be realistic.

There have been lots of tree planting programs in Haiti. I personally know one PhD forester who spent 10 years there, and oversaw the planting of hundreds of thousands. No visible results. (Of course, this guy could be the poster child for "PhD Disease", that horrible plague endemic in grad schools that causes a 99.5% death of the auditory nerves), so it's not too surprising.

Trees for the Future is a non-profit company that has a HUGE agroforestry/reforestation program in Haiti. They have planted millions of trees there, but most of all they teach farmers how to farm and live sustainably to prevent any further decimation of the forests. TREES provides seed, knowledge, tools and necessary supervision to help others help themselves. They are able to get trees planted for less than 20 cents each. Check them out and donate!

BTW also, this picking on people for every "hypocrisy" than a cynic can cherry-pick out of what they do, is a nasty and misleading scam. Sure, we are connected to a power grid etc. and we will be partaking of some of what we criticize, sometimes. So what. It's OK, it's rational, it's constructive for a person to try and make even what they use and how it works, better than it was. Trying to shut people down with that wrangle is a scam, I can tell who is not arguing in good faith when I see that bully tactic.