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Trees Take Root in Haiti

Text by Molly Marsh / Photographs by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — The 45-minute ride from Port-au-Prince to the village of Arcahaie is hot and bumpy. The landscape around us is dotted with shrubs and some trees, though generations of deforestation have left the hillsides of Chaîne des Matheux, the mountain range north of Haiti’s capital city, green but mostly barren.

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Children help line up tree seedlings at a Trees for the Future nursery in Gericher, Haiti.

Timote Georges, Haiti program coordinator for Trees for the Future, a nonprofit organization that works on reforestation projects in some 20 countries, points out the devastating effects of deforestation. There are few trees to keep the soil from eroding, to provide relief from the unrelenting sun and heat, and to protect farms and homes from the ravages of heavy rains.

“When it rains, people in the lowlands see their work and livelihoods washed out,” says Georges. Trees would minimize the impact of Haiti’s seasonal rains, not to mention the hurricanes the country regularly experiences. Tree roots also add important nutrients to soil. Healthy, nutritious soil leads to better crops, which leads to more food and less hunger.

Georges and his colleagues stopped their pickups—carrying us and Bread senior policy analyst Whitney Rhoades—on a gravel road overlooking a steep embankment. Next up was a walk through the brush and a wade through a river to reach the community of Gericher. We climbed a hill to enter a small but lively oasis—a nursery packed with plants, trees, and families who are participating in a Trees for the Future program.

Tidy lines of seedlings, planted in dirt and natural compost and wrapped with black plastic, covered the ground. Children carefully watered them so that the trees’ roots would develop. When the trees mature, they’ll be replanted higher in the hills as well as the immediate area. Many of the 170 families served by the nursery already have trees surrounding their homes, farms, and livestock to protect them from landslides and heavy rains.

Involving family and community members in the projects is key, says Georges. “Before we start doing anything, we do training. We talk about existing environmental problems. We help them become aware of the consequences of deforestation, and we tell them how trees can control erosion and help stabilize soil. We talk about the importance of trees for nature—for them.”

Once community members decide on their plan, Trees for the Future provides training, tools, and technical assistance to help them establish their nurseries.

The organization manages projects in three areas of Haiti—Arcahaie, Gonaives, and Medor—which serve 20 communities. It’s a small organization with a big impact—they’ve planted close to 1 million trees in a country whose tree coverage is estimated at 2 percent.

“We lost bridges in 10 minutes,” said Georges, referring to the hurricanes Haiti experienced in 2008. “It’s because the environment around the bridges was degraded. When we talk about helping Haiti, we have to invest in the environment.”

Our group left the nursery and walked back down a dry, rocky hill toward the river. “Before we planted, it was like this,” Georges said, pointing to the barren earth underneath his feet. “It was lifeless. Now it is living.

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The Trees for the Future nursery in Gericher, Haiti, lies in a field dotted with low-lying shrubbery and rocks but few trees.


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"Doing reforestation without environmental education is a mistake," says Timote Georges, Haiti program coordinator for Trees for the Future. Georges studied agronomy in Haiti and Costa Rica and started working with the organization in 2008.

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The tree nursery in Gericher, Haiti, serves 170 families.

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Haiti is 98% deforested, which exacerbates soil erosion problems and hurts agriculture production, thus contributing to poverty and hunger in the country.

Bread for the World is traveling in Haiti this week to collect stories related to alleviating hunger and poverty.

Trees Take Root in Haiti

The 45-minute ride from Port-au-Prince to the village of Arcahaie is hot and bumpy. The landscape around us is dotted with shrubs and some trees, though generations of deforestation have left the hillsides of Chaîne des Matheux, the mountain range north of Haiti’s capital city, green but mostly barren.

Timoté Georges, Haiti program coordinator for Trees for the Future, a nonprofit organization that works on reforestation projects in some 20 countries, points out the devastating effects of deforestation. There are few trees to keep the soil from eroding, to provide relief from the unrelenting sun and heat, and to protect farms and homes from the ravages of heavy rains.

“When it rains, people in the lowlands see their work and livelihoods washed out,” says Georges. Trees would minimize the impact of Haiti’s seasonal rains, not to mention the hurricanes the country regularly experiences. Tree roots also add important nutrients to soil. Healthy, nutritious soil leads to better crops, which leads to more food and less hunger.

Georges and his colleagues stopped their pickups—carrying Laura Elizabeth Pohl, Bread’s multimedia manager, Whitney Rhoades, a Bread senior policy analyst, and me—on a gravel road overlooking a steep embankment. Next up was a walk through the brush and a wade through a river to reach the community of Gericher.  We climbed a hill to enter a small but lively oasis—a nursery packed with plants, trees, and families who are participating in a Trees for the Future program.

Tidy lines of seedlings, planted in dirt and natural compost and wrapped with black plastic, covered the ground. Children carefully watered them so that the trees’ roots would develop. When the trees mature, they’ll be replanted higher in the hills as well as the immediate area. Many of the 170 families served by the nursery already have trees surrounding their homes, farms, and livestock to protect them from landslides and heavy rains.

Involving family and community members in the projects is key, says Georges. “Before we start doing anything, we do training. We talk about existing environmental problems. We help them become aware of the consequences of deforestation, and we tell them how trees can control erosion and help stabilize soil. We talk about the importance of trees for nature—for them.”

Once community members decide on their plan, Trees for the Future provides training, tools, and technical assistance to help them establish their nurseries.

The organization manages projects in three areas of Haiti—Arcahaie, Gonaives, and Medor—which serve 20 communities. It’s a small organization with a big impact—they’ve planted close to 1 million trees in a country whose tree coverage is estimated at 2 percent.

“We lost bridges in 10 minutes,” said Georges, referring to the earthquake Haiti experienced January 12. “It’s because the environment around the bridges was degraded. When we talk about helping Haiti, we have to invest in the environment.”

Our group left the nursery and walked back down a dry, rocky hill toward the river. “Before we planted, it was like this,” Georges said, pointing to the barren earth underneath his feet. “It was lifeless. Now it is living.”

 

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Comments

Very interesting article! I was not aware of this particular effort in Haiti but understand it's importance to long term recovery. I'm interested to know how these families were involved in the project. I also wonder how long it would take to cultivate the trees to ensure that they take full root and provide soil protection in the targeted area? Great photos!

Thanks for the post! Please continue to let us know what you see and hear!

Hi, Molly, Thanks for this elucidating post. It really helps us see the realities and specifics of Haiti and, by extension, similar areas. I'm preparing my thoughts this week to preach at Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, MI on Bread for the World and your photos and comments help me feel energized. Merci beaucoup!

Planting trees is very important, but this should go hand in hand with teaching ways to avoid cutting down existing trees. I had the opportunity to travel to Haiti in "09, on a mission trip to build and distribute solar ovens with Solar Oven Partners. This is a worthwhile organization and their work would go well with the tree planting. Rick Jost is the person in charge.

I'm so excited that Bread is involved in this project! I'll be leaving for Haiti in the next few months to volunteer as a nurse. This project is amazing! If I could be in 2 places at once, I'd love to work with this organization! Prayer and Love! Sharon Barefoot, RN, BSN

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