On April 22, USAID’s Feed the Future Haiti Chanje Lavi Plantè (CLP) project joined groups around the world to commemorate Earth Day. The project, implemented by Chemonics, worked with local communities, the private sector, children from neighboring schools, and the public sector to kick-start a tree-planting campaign at the Robin Sustainable Rural Development Center in Kenscoff, Haiti.
Over the next six months, more than 30 farmer organizations will plant 3 million fruit and forest tree seedlings on the hillsides of Kenscoff, Belle Fontaine, Fond Baptiste, and Goyavier to increase the country’s tree cover; stabilize the soil from continued erosion; and protect local populations, their crops, and infrastructure downstream.
Despite heavy rains in Robin before the event, turnout was high. Farmer associations from surrounding communes participated alongside local officials and project staff to plant tree seedlings produced in project-supported nurseries. Several high-level government officials, including Haitian Minister of Agriculture Carmel André Béliard and Haitian Minister of the Environment Pierre Simon Georges, were also in attendance and gave speeches to commemorate the event.
In his opening remarks, the minister of agriculture emphasized the importance of the tree-planting campaign to educate the next generation on how to be stewards of their environment. He also stressed the importance of agricultural education in schools and universities to maintain and build on Haiti’s agricultural resilience.
“We cannot succeed [in] reforestation efforts without the support of higher education, students, and farmers,” affirmed Mr. Béliard.
With more than 1,000 people in attendance, this was a powerful moment for those who had never planted a tree before.
Harmonizing Agriculture and Environment Activities
Situated outside Port-au-Prince, among Haiti’s majestic mountainsides of Kenscoff, Robin is one of the country’s many rural communities that largely depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Agriculture employs more than half the population and is one of the only livelihood options for people in rural communities. However, agricultural outcomes are directly tied to environmental degradation, and in recent years, deforestation has taken its toll. For one thing, mudslides and erosion, particularly on Haiti’s mountainous slopes, have destroyed crops and irrigation infrastructure downstream.
Furthermore, approximately 85 percent of Haiti’s watersheds are degraded, leading to flooding, fewer healthy crops, and less groundwater for irrigation during drought. As a result, food security and nutrition have been threatened.
To counter these challenges, CLP has partnered with farmer associations, sub-watershed management committees, the private sector, and the local government to harmonize environmental efforts and agricultural pursuits. The project is collaborating with farmer organizations to stabilize more than 37 kilometers of ravines with different types of structures that limit erosion — gabions, which are wirework containers filled with rocks that are piled up and often used as retaining walls, and vetiver, a type of grass that can reduce erosion and rainfall runoff.
In addition, CLP promotes sustainable practices on hillsides to increase agricultural production while stabilizing hillsides. Farmer organizations are installing 50 hectares of agricultural terracing on the mountainsides of Kenscoff and Belle Fontaine and planting vegetal structures, such as vetiver, elephant grass, and pigeon peas. The project also promotes greenhouse agriculture using vertical drip irrigation. Specialized water retention ponds will maximize water availability and increase yields by 20 times, compared to traditional hillside practices. This approach offers a sustainable alternative for farmers who plant crops on steep and fragile mountainsides.
To protect and manage critical watersheds, CLP has partnered with eight sub-watershed management committees to use their sub-watershed development plans to plant fruit trees in strategic areas to reduce erosion risks downstream. Sub-watershed management committees are also playing a large role, training local communities in best practices.
An Ongoing Effort
While the Earth Day celebration was a great success, there is still work to do. Until May 2018, when the project is scheduled to end, CLP will continue to train local farmer associations and strengthen public-private partnerships that will boost conservation efforts.
The Earth Day event kick-off galvanized local communities, and highlighted Haiti’s potential to grow its agricultural sector into a strong, independent, and fruitful economic base that can bolster food security and environmental stewardship for generations to come.