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A member of the SFA with her daughter at a tree planting in Haiti. Photo by Sebastian Petion.

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Frontline Online: Millions of trees improve life in Haiti

February 5th, 2013

by Lorna Howarth

The Ecologist's Lorna Howarth reports on news and action from the environmental frontline....

Haiti seems to have more than its fair share of environmental disasters, with a massive earthquake and severe hurricanes affecting the country in the last three years alone.

International relief efforts are welcomed and effective in the aftermath of these extreme events, but once the television cameras and aid agencies are gone, Haiti continues only slowly to rebuild.

Amongst the stories of catastrophe and struggle there are many shining lights, not least is Haiti’s Smallholder Farmer Alliance (SFA), which this week celebrates planting over two million trees during the past two years. This is a valuable contribution to eco-restoration in a country that had 60% tree cover in 1923 and only 2% in 2006.

Deforestation occurred in Haiti for many different reasons, but in the last fifty years it has been due to the converging pressures of poverty, poor agricultural practices, rapid population growth and increased competition for land. The consequences have been dire, with soil erosion and droughts compounding the grinding poverty for Haiti’s rural communities.  

The SFA was founded in 2010 by Hugh Locke and agronomist Timote Georges, to address some of the fundamental problems resulting from deforestation. Locke was a student of forester Richard St. Barbe Baker, whom readers may remember contributed to many early issues of The Ecologist and who was great friends with Ecologist Founder, Teddy Goldsmith.

Together, Locke and Georges designed a model for reforestation in which participating farmers form cooperatives and jointly manage the tree nurseries and overall operations – and share in the benefits. Farmers are given support in the form of tools and seeds to plant trees for food, timber, fodder and fuel and are well on their way to their goal of planting 5 million trees in five years.

Equally important to the tree planting is SFA’s self-sustaining agroforestry model. It is hoped this model will deliver improvements in agricultural practices and yields, environmental restoration of severely degraded land and economic growth for participating farmers.

The farmers volunteer their time to manage the tree nurseries and plant trees in return for agricultural services such as high yield seeds of sorghum, beans and corn, training in crop management, in-field technical support and the good quality tools.  

“The pilot program represents a break with the traditional development model that often lasts only as long as the external funding,” said Hugh Locke. “We call it ‘exit strategy aid’ and we’re planning to follow this pilot with many more cooperatives as the nation’s farmers start to take the lead in restoring tree cover -- without which no country can prosper sustainably.” 

The success of this program was tested last year when farmers throughout Haiti lost between 40 and 70 percent of their crops as a result of hurricanes Isaac and Sandy. “Income from tree sales enabled the 2,000 cooperative members to purchase extra seed to replant their storm-damaged fields, and the cooperative took care of each other without turning to government or donor sources for assistance,” said Timote Georges.

Timberland (the global footwear company) is a principle sponsor of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance, and has collaborated with NGO’s including the Clinton Global Initiative to identify sustainable market based solutions for the members of the farmer cooperative.  

Lorna Howarth is a writer and environmentalist. She is a contributing editor to Resurgence & Ecologist magazine and the founder of a small independent publishing agency:

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