News / Americas

Returning Trees, Jobs to Haiti's Eroded Hills

98 percent of the country's forests have been cut down

Restoring Haiti's hillsides with contour canals, vetiver grass, and trees
Restoring Haiti's hillsides with contour canals, vetiver grass, and trees

Multimedia

Audio

Edgar Griffin has lived on this hillside outside the town of Petit Guave for 80 years. He says when he was young, it was lush and green.  So green, he says, "You couldn't see a house across from you because it was so green."

Not anymore. Today the mountains are brown and barren. Farmers here try to grow peanuts, but the fertile topsoil washes away in the rain.

"Now, when people plant peanuts, they don't produce as much because the good soil goes into the ocean," says engineer Roudy Valmy with the U.N. International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Clearing land for farming remains the main cause of deforestation worldwide, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. But in Haiti, the loss of tree cover - and the soil erosion that results - has made it much harder for farmers to grow food, worsening the hunger and poverty already gripping the country.

Ninety-eight percent of the country's forests have been cut down, largely to make charcoal - the main cooking fuel in Haiti - where alternatives are unavailable or unaffordable. The same forces drive deforestation in many other developing countries.

Changing attitudes

But villager Emmano Nobert says attitudes here are changing.

"In the past, the old people, they saw the trees, but they did not really know the meaning of a tree to the country," he says. "Today, we, the youth, we are studying, and we know the meaning of a tree to our lives."

Nobert and his neighbors approached the IOM for help restoring these hills. The IOM has several projects in the area giving local people jobs restoring the environment. The IOM's Francois Fournier put Nobert's group to work digging short canals in the contours of the hillsides, to slow down the flow of rainwater and curb erosion.

Fournier says, "In front of each contour canal we plant vetiver," a grass with deep roots to hold the soil in place. "And in back of every row [of canals] we plant trees - over 20 varieties of trees."

Villagers water trees on a volunteer work day.
Villagers water trees on a volunteer work day.

"Worth more alive"

Those include fruit-bearing trees like mango, cacao and coffee; and trees that make good building materials that the villagers can sell.

"They're worth more alive than they are as charcoal," says David Delgado with the US Agency for International Development, which funds this project and others.

Delgado notes that trees for charcoal are also planted in order to provide a renewable source of this important cooking fuel.

Results

The project near Petit Guave started just nine months ago, but the results are already plainly visible. From a nearby ridge, this hillside is noticeably greener than those next to it. The grass and trees help the soil retain more water, and Delgado says the villagers are starting to see benefits.

On a recent visit, he says "They pointed down to the bottom of the ravine...and they said, 'You see that tree that's down there? That tree used to never be green this time of year. Since we put in these soil, water catchment programs, that tree has leaves on it.' And more importantly, the water source at the bottom is flowing now year-round."

The denuded landscape near Petit Guave. Haiti is 98 percent deforested.
The denuded landscape near Petit Guave. Haiti is 98 percent deforested.

Longtime resident Edgar Griffin is hopeful about the change in attitude from the old generation to the new.

"It was poverty that made them cut down the trees. Now, we can tell the difference in the soil."

A tale of two hillsides

The trees need care in the first two years after planting to help them get established. The IOM does not pay villagers for this work. The IOM's Francois Fournier says the volunteer work is intended to help the community feel ownership of the project.

On a recent afternoon, Griffin's community was out watering and weeding the young trees, singing while they worked in the hot sun.

But other nearby communities do not share this enthusiasm. At a similar project nearby, villagers had stopped watering and weeding young trees months ago. The trees were much smaller and many had died. The hillside was much browner than Griffin's.

"It's better than it was, for sure," Fournier says. "But it was supposed to be two or three times better in the quantity of trees. I'm disappointed. What can I say?"

Fournier says he will not be pursuing any more projects with this community.

Experts say creating jobs replanting trees could make a significant difference across Haiti, where both deforestation and unemployment are rampant. In the wake of Haiti's devastating earthquake and the country's chronic hunger problems, the government and international donors are considering planting trees as a way to help workers, farmers and the environment all at the same time.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Poll: Record Number of Mexicans Crime Victims in 2013

While government data shows murder rate has fallen in past 2 years, crimes such as kidnapping and extortion, which affect wider swath of the population, rise
More

OAS Asks Members to Take In Guantanamo Detainees

Organization of American States issues appeal for member countries to take in detainees from US military prison
More

Recession Looms Over Venezuela, Official Data Under Wraps

Empty store shelves, closed factory gates and idled construction projects tell their own story
More

US Judge Holds Argentina in Contempt Over Bond Payment Plan

In rare move, District Judge Thomas Griesa says country taking 'illegal' steps to evade his orders in longstanding dispute with hedge funds over defaulted debt
More

Brazil's Rousseff Extends Lead Over Silva in Elections

President Dilma Rousseff's expected victory margin over closest rival Marina Silva has surged to 9 percentage points
More

8 Killed in Peru Quake

The victims of the 4.9-magnitude tremor were all from the mountainous community of Misca, where many homes collapsed in the quake
More