PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — More than half of the Haitian economy relies on agriculture as a source of revenue. However, years of deforestation have left the country struggling with food insecurities and farmers with limited capabilities to live off of the land. In an effort to reverse the damage done over the years, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is launching a reforestation project on Jan. 11 in Cap-Haitien.
“This reforestation project addresses the important need of conservation and restoration of Haiti’s forests,” the US agency said in a statement. Through the project, five million trees will be planted in Haiti over the course of five years to restore over 800 hectares of forests. This will help reduce the production of 80,000 tons of charcoal in five priority watersheds in the North and Northeast departments.
The US government project, which represents an investment of $40.3 million, will work closely with local communities, government actors, and other stakeholders to establish ownership and management of the natural resources, therefore increasing Haiti’s capacity for environmental management.
The deforestation in Haiti, which is compounded by the reliance on charcoal for fuel, has led to soil erosion, leaving farmers with little ability to produce crop. The destruction of forests in the country has also left communities without a defense against natural disasters, leading to flooding and desertification in several towns.
While the prevailing narrative of a badly deforested Haiti has persisted for years, there are some experts that believe the severity of the problem has been exaggerated.
“All the news outlets had this narrative that it’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has 2 percent forest cover. But I’d been to these mountainous areas and seen forest cover that was more than 2 percent. I could see it with my own eyes,” geologist Peter Wampler said in a 2016 interview with VICE News.
According to Wampler, Haiti has about 30 percent forest coverage, which is on par with that of “the United States, France, and Germany, and far higher than in Ireland and England.”
“Organizations use this statistic as a lever to get funding and help. For them, it’s a lot more convenient to have a narrative that works” said Wampler.
As for USAID and their work in Haiti, they’ve implemented a number of strategies and programs to “help Haiti protect its fragile environment and conserve its precious resources.”