Haiti seems to have more than its fair share of environmental disasters, but amongst the stories of catastrophe there are many shining lights, not least Haiti’s Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA), which has just celebrated planting over 2 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 reasons, but in the last 50 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 the fundamental problems resulting from deforestation. Together they designed a model for reforestation in which participating farmers form cooperatives and jointly manage tree nurseries 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 is the SFA’s self-sustaining agroforestry model, which hopes to deliver improvements in agricultural practices and yields, environmental restoration of severely degraded land, and economic growth for 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 good-quality tools.

“The pilot programme 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 the tree cover – without which no country can prosper sustainably.”

Last year the success of this programme was tested when Haiti farmers lost between 40% and 70% 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 damaged fields, and the cooperative took care of each other without turning to government or donors for assistance,” said Timote Georges.


Lorna Howarth is the founder of The Write Factor. www.thewritefactor.co.uk