Haiti to Plant Millions of Trees to Boost Forests, Reduce Poverty

  • Posted on: 28 March 2013
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Below is an article by Rashmee Roshan Lall of the Guardian concerning the Haitian government's plan to promote the planting of 50 million trees a year. The success of this campaign will largely depend upon giving people accessible, affordable alternatives to charcoal.  Other countries have launched successful reforestation campaigns - hopefully, Haitian government and civil society can now do the same. 



Haiti aims to plant 50m trees a year in a pioneering reforestation campaign to address one of the primary causes of the country's poverty and ecological vulnerability. President Michel Martelly will launch the drive to double forest cover by 2016 from the perilous level of 2% – one of the lowest rates in the world. Despite scepticism engendered by past ill-fated campaigns, there are hopes that the high-level push will mark a turning point after hundreds of years of degradation. Haiti was once covered in verdant forests but land clearance for colonial plantations was followed by tree felling for cooking fuel. It is estimated that 30m to 40m trees a year are cut down. Until now, efforts to address this problem, which worsens with floods and mudslides, have been sporadic, small-scale projects, mostly run by foreign non-governmental organisations. But the government has said it will spearhead the new initiative, which starts on 1 May.


"In three years, this level of planting will give us forest cover of 4.5%; in 10 years, it will be 8% to 10% and in 50 years, we hope to be at the level of Cuba, a regional role model, and have 29%," Jean François Thomas, the environment minister, said.  The tree-planting drive, which seeks "to turn every Haitian into a forest guard", is independent of scattered international efforts by USAid, the UN development programme and the Mennonite church, going back at least 30 years. But the government is backing another new project – the Haiti forest social initiative – which was launched in early March by the Clinton Foundation in collaboration with Nobel prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus's social business initiative and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Unite. "The Haitian government has agreed to commit 10,000 hectares to the agroforestry initiative, which is currently at the feasibility study stage," said Clémentine Lalande, Haiti head of investments for Yunus Social Business. More tree cover is considered essential if Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, is to raise living standards.


"Deforestation and poverty are very closely linked in Haiti," said Lalande. "It has been clearly identified in various studies as one of the main causes of poverty here, leading to degraded soil, decreasing agricultural yields, water scarcity, decreasing farming income and potentially malnutrition, in particular in rural areas." It also worsens the impact of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and the recent hurricane Sandy. "Just one day of continuous rain is devastating, it can cause catastrophe," said Thomas, referring to the frequent mudslides that roll down Haiti's brown, bare mountains, burying thousands, in the rainy season from May to October. The global average of forest cover is 9%-12%, with countries such as Suriname and Bhutan exceeding 60%. The Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbour on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, has lush forests but satellite photos show Haiti is all but bare. "This is a Haitian problem: every Haitian is guilty. We did not fight to prevent it, we are used to it now and we live with it as a natural problem," Thomas said.


The campaign to change the Haitian mindset will include education through radio programmes and pamphlets and an environmental protection component in the school curriculum from September. Solar, kerosene and propane stoves will be advertised as green and sustainable alternatives to wood or charcoal for cooking. The environment ministry will put its dormant environmental surveillance corps on the alert to stop illegal logging from protected areas such as Pic Macaya, one of Haiti's two national parks and its last stand of virgin cloud forest. "We will cut off access to the two markets – Port-au-Prince and Cap Haïtien – where the trucks illegally carrying the wood go to get good prices," said Thomas. He added that his government would also dust off environmental legislation dating back to 1920 and enforce fines and prison terms for cutting down trees.


It is fighting talk consistent with his government declaring 2013 the year of the environment and creating a catchy creole slogan, "Yon ayisyen, yon pye bwa" (one Haitian, one tree), as the theme for the pre-Lent carnival. But many are sceptical. "The Haitian government does not have a consistent record in terms of medium- to long-term projects, particularly in terms of controlling the drivers of deforestation (sharecropping for cash crops, charcoal, pasture, illegal poaching) on the land," said ecologist Joel Timyan, who works with the non-profit Société Audubon Haïti founded 10 years ago by a group of professionals concerned about the degradation of Haiti's ecosystems. Timyan, whose book Bwa Yo is a standard reference text on Haitian trees, added: "Reforestation would proceed more effectively without tree-planting if mechanisms were enacted to restrict access to land." The minister agrees. "Maybe if we emptied the island for 10 years, we would reforest without doing things. But that is not possible. So we're doing this."


Christian Science Monitor
By Rashmee Roshan Lall
Haiti, one of the world’s most deforested countries, launches its first national tree-planting program next month. President Michel Martelly’s government calls the effort “a big signal” that the administration is determined to reverse environmental degradation and address one of the main causes of poverty on the Caribbean island.
Stripped of 98 percent of its trees, Haiti suffers deforestation’s impoverishing side effects, like soil erosion, poor agricultural productivity, and desertification. In the three years since the 2010 earthquake, Haiti has been hit by multiple landslides during its six-month rainy season. This adds to the woes of some of its most vulnerable people, already affected by frequent natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. The new reforestation drive aims to replace the 30 million to 40 million trees cut down every year for firewood, a common source of fuel for cooking here. The tree planting will take place at seven sites across the country, and 1.2 million saplings will be planted in a single day, May 1, according to Jean Lucien Ligonde, a senior adviser to the Ministry of Environment. The four-pronged campaign kicks off just 14 days before President Martelly’s second anniversary in office. Some point to the initiative as a political move – a way to signal to the international community that his government is making strides to tackle some of Haiti’s biggest challenges like environmental degradation and its side effects.
The campaign will also seek to educate the public about environmental issues, says Jean Francois Thomas, an environment minister. It will feature radio public service announcements, banners and pamphlets, and environmental education in all schools, and offer “green” cooking fuel as an alternative to wood and use the Ministry’s environmental surveillance corps to watch out for illegal logging in protected areas, Mr. Thomas says. With hands-on technical support from Cuba, $5 million from Venezuela’s Petrocaribe fund, sample pamphlets from Costa Rica, and 1,000 forest guards that it has yet to hire, Haiti is aiming to achieve just under 5 percent tree cover within three years. This is the first time the Haitian government has acknowledged – through actions and words – the country’s ecological fragility. Despite years of warnings from international observers and environmental groups, the government’s only tree-planting campaign so far was a small, scattered initiative during the 1980s, when Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier ruled.
Martelly’s administration has declared 2013 the “year of the environment.” This year’s carnival slogan was the Creole phrase “Yon ayisyen, yon pye bwa,” which translates to “one Haitian, one tree.” Those in the agronomy and nursery industry are not as optimistic about the government’s plans. Agronomist Jude Lauriston and nursery manager Bernard Felix say they fervently hope the the tree-planting campaign is a success, but worry about the government's lack of planning. Mr. Felix’s nursery Plantules et Semence Tropicale is one of the private nurseries from which the government plans to buy the saplings. Less than a month before the big launch, Felix says he had "only got an informal order for 100,000 mango, orange, mahogany, cedar, and avocado trees." “This is not the way to do it,” says Felix, who has managed nurseries for nearly 30 years. “A contract for plants would be the first step. Then, they should tell us exactly when they need them. We have no problem supplying 2 million plants every three months,” he says. But officials insist they have a well-thought-out plan, citing agreements with neighboring countries like Cuba and the Dominican Republic to import seedlings. “We will have 24.5 million trees a year from community nurseries, 1 million seedlings from the Dominican Republic. We haven’t negotiated a figure with Cuba yet but can get seedlings from there, and we will buy the rest from private nurseries,” says Mr. Ligonde.
Ecologist Joel Timyan who works with the Audubon Society Haiti, founded a decade ago by professionals concerned about the degradation of Haiti’s ecosystem, is doubtful the government can achieve its stated goals, as well. Not only does the country face basic challenges like providing eco-friendly fuel to its impoverished citizens, there are important historical issues that stand in the way. “Only when the rules of tree planting and access to land are clearly understood” by Haiti’s many land users can a program like this succeed, Mr. Timyan says. He says for this project to work, the land must be allowed to “rest” long enough for trees to grow and forests to develop. “This takes longer than an election cycle,” Timyan says.

By Anna-Maija Mattila Litvak
An organization in northern Haiti is promoting a cooking fuel made from agricultural waste that can save trees, help farmers increase their yields and generate additional income. “Our aim is to try to stop deforestation in Haiti by teaching people to switch from cooking with charcoal to using cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste,” said Anderson Pierre, the Supply Chain Manager for Carbon Roots International (CRI), a USAID-supported non-profit organization operating in Quartier Morin. Despite the fact that only about 2 percent of Haiti’s forests remain, it is difficult to shift habits of cooking with wood charcoal to methods that are environmentally friendly. According to Pierre, other alternative fuels are still not well-known – or accepted. “We work little by little, changing perceptions and providing information on the benefits of using briquettes,” Pierre said.
CRI employs smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs to produce carbon-rich char from agricultural waste such as sugarcane bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. CRI uses this waste to create two innovative products: renewable charcoal cooking briquettes called “green charcoal,” and “biochar,” a potent natural soil additive that increases soil fertility and removes carbon from the atmosphere. CRI sells the briquettes as an alternative to traditional wood charcoal through a network of women retailers, and disburses biochar back to farmers to increase crop yields and further raise incomes. As a result, the project contributes to the sustainability of Haitian agriculture and provides income opportunities for women entrepreneurs. It offers a comparably priced, locally appropriate green cooking fuel to the Haitian marketplace, as well as encourages the adoption of biochar as a viable tool for increasing agricultural productivity and soil resiliency.
CRI’s efforts to promote green charcoal are gradually gaining ground in northern Haiti. While they’ve been focusing on market research and production, they plan to expand to bulk sales and more roadside kiosks this spring. In December, CRI ran a public awareness campaign in Quartier Morin under the slogan “Green Charcoal is Your Charcoal”, using demonstration stands and offering free samples of briquettes. “The Haitian consumer likes the fact that this comes from a source other than wood. People have heard about a Haiti that used to be green. They understand that deforestation is not good. If they have an alternative, they will go for it,” said Ryan Delaney, co-founder of CRI. The briquettes are 5 to 10 percent cheaper to buy than wood-based charcoal and they can be burned in a traditional cook stove, making it an attractive fuel alternative. USAID is supporting CRI through a $100,000 Development Innovation Ventures award. The USAID award has helped CRI prove itself — it developed a network of producers, started production and created viable markets for biomass products. “We want this to be a self-sufficient project,” Delaney said. “We have just purchased a machine that can increase the briquette production from 3,000 briquettes a day to 3 tons an hour. There is a lot of sugarcane production in Haiti providing the needed sugarcane waste…. Right now we sell small-scale, but we have ambitious expansion goals.”
Delaney estimates the charcoal market in Haiti to be valued at about $700 million a year (approximately $90 million in northern Haiti). “The potential to scale in Haiti and beyond is enormous, as there is little centralized production of charcoal,” he said. This month, the U.S.-based CRI expects formal operations to begin for their for-profit entity in Haiti, called Carbon Roots Haiti, S.A. Eventually CRI wants to hand over green charcoal production to Haitians, Delaney said. ”Ultimately, we envision this as a Haitian company run by Haitians.” Launched in October 2010, USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) holds a quarterly grant competition for innovative ideas, pilots and tests them using cutting-edge analytical methods, and scales those that demonstrate cost-effectiveness and widespread development impact. DIV uses a staged-funding model inspired by venture capital to invest comparatively small amounts in relatively unproven ideas, and continues to support only those that prove effective.
For more information on DIV and how to apply, go to http://www.usaid.gov/div. For more information on CRI visit http://www.carbonrootsinternational.org/ and see photos of CRI in Haiti on Flickr. Anna-Maija Mattila Litvak is the Senior Development Outreach and Communications Officer for USAID/Haiti.

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