Deforestation in Haiti



We have researched crops that Haitian farmers can use with terracing, which will in turn revitalize the soil while providing farmers a cash crop or food to support their farmers. We would like to enter a researching phase, where we would prototype terracing in rural Haiti alongside normal farming techniques to determine if terracing produces more yield. To accomplish this, we would need to partner with a community in the rural regions and develop relationships within the community to shape terracing in to a more appropriate technology.


Stakeholders Groups Interests at Stake in Relation to Project Effects of Project on Interests Stakeholder Importance for
Project Success
Degree of Influence of Stakeholder
Our Team Invested in stopping soil erosion + 5 1
Pete + Steph Aiming to help us learn + 5 1
Al Connection to Haiti / personal investment + 5 2
Karen Connection to Haiti / personal connection to community in Haiti + 5 2
Farmers Use the product / livelihood affected by success + 4 2
Politicians Potentially interested in improving reputation + 2 3


Haiti, south of the United States, shares an island with the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Sea. Over the course of seven decades, Haiti’s forested land dropped from 60% in 1923 to 2% in 2006 due to deforestation. The deforestation is a culmination of logging operations, soil erosion, and individual fuel use. It not only endangers the ecosystem but leaves Haiti vulnerable to natural disasters, compounds Haiti’s energy shortage which is primarily based on wood, and has been linked to poverty.

In response, we have decided to research alternative ways to combat deforestation and select one method to build upon. We will study existing models – such as the Eden Project and Working Villages International – to build a sustainable model, one that can be applied specifically to the natural, cultural, and political environment in Haiti.


Our objective is to stop the progress of current erosion and prevent future erosion in the environment throughout Haiti, providing a means for reforestation to take root. We plan to utilize fixation techniques employed in the Loess Plateau project, a soil conservation project described under the research section below, and modify it to fit Haiti’s environment and culture. It will be important for us to consider the culture of the Haitian people and their knowledge when implementing these solutions.


Involvement of the Haitian people and the community is vital to the success of the project. They determine the projects’ relevance and its level of sustainability, namely whether or not the project will last long enough and spread far enough to have a significant impact on erosion and deforestation. From our study of current organizations in Haiti, it’s evident that community involvement is a must for success. In an excerpt of a USAID case study, initiatives that relied on the Haitian government to enforce use of soil conservation technologies “largely failed because farmers were not included in the planning process, often infringed on land rights, provided little economic gain, and ignored traditional conservation technologies and knowledge.” [1]

As a result, we have decided to send Karen, our contact for Haitian culture and experience, with more questions on Haiti and Haitian people and to partner with the New Aid Model to ensure that our model proves financially sustainable.

In addition, we will consider how our research affects the community and whether or not our research is applicable. For example, we will search for natural plants or plants that, if grown, can be sold for profit. One such plant is the palm tree, which holds cultural significance as the national emblem and as a produce for religious, cultural, and economical purposes.

Looking to the future, the next step in our work would be a pilot prototype in Haiti to demonstrate the effects of terracing and determine the potential for profit. This will require more information from the community. A conversation over current needs, opinions on agriculture and deforestation, as well as current agricultural techniques will be necessary. However, local implementation is beyond the scope of the project. Instead, we will report on the effectiveness of terracing and soil replenishment and its cultural relevance.

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To ensure the success of our project, we must take into consideration the vibrant culture of Haiti and the sub-cultures of the communities in which we are working. Our group will rely on research and the experiences of our Haitian contacts to learn from and about the communities. This will enable us to work with locals and facilitate partnerships.


We have spoken to Karen Pfau regarding a Haitian community that she is in contact with. From our contact, we found that the entire community consists of subsistence farmers. Some own a small piece of property to farm and there are farmers who sell their produce. Many in the area are not educated, and though aware of the deforestation issue, they cannot afford anything else due to their poverty level.

Past 11/25/14 we stopped receiving responses, but we felt that the information given was useful. Since we could not find more personal information, we based our project on the knowledge shared and the findings we researched, described further below.


Women dominate marketing, especially in tobacco, garden produce, and fish. Those who are most economically active become marchann, purchasing goods in bulk and traveling between rural and urban areas to redistribute the goods to rural women in the market. As a result, women are considered owners of the harvest and control earning though men plant the gardens.[1] We will need to talk to the women in addition to the men to determine if the plants necessary for terracing can be sold for profit and how we can distribute those plants and their seeds in the rural areas.


According to Britannica, Haitians prefer living in Port-au-Prince’s slums instead of living in the rural areas, where the hours are longer and money scarcer due to eroded and infertile land. When profits are made in the rural areas, they are invested in land, cattle, Vodou ceremonies, and to pay school fees for children. [2] From these observations, we concluded that the reforestation project should profit the farmers. Otherwise, the farmers will not maintain the terraces and will shift their resources and time to farming and harvesting cash crops.

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To offset deforestation, the following existing models were studied: the Eden Projects, SIRONA, Working Villages International, and the Loess Plateau Project. From the existing models, we decided to select the Loess Platea Project to build upon, particularly the terracing method to prevent erosion and allow for reforestation.


The Eden Projects is a reforestation-focused organization that works in Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Haiti. After the 2010 earthquake struck, they returned to Haiti and trained over 500 Haitian teachers in establishing nurseries, growing seedlings, and incorporating reforestation in to their school. This in effect passed on the knowledge to the children attending such schools. Alternatively, they pay community members to plant trees, providing an income or purpose to planting trees other than for environmental benefits. [1]

We realized the importance of incorporating education in to our model; however, we considered the model of paying community members to plant unsustainable without donors funds. Though a worthwhile cause, we decided to look in to a method that would allow community members to combat deforestation without continuous aid. In the meantime, the team we partnered with, New Aid Model, will look in to the potential benefits of offsetting loans with carbon credits. Instead of paying community members to plant trees, those who apply to loans can reduce the amount to be paid back by planting trees or participating in reforestation. [2]

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SIRONA is an organization that tackles energy poverty through economic empowerment. They provide the tools necessary to create power, namely solar power and biofuel. The projects that SIRONA implemented include a solar charging station, whose income benefits a local orphanage; farming loans under a co-op, which is paid off by sending food to a local school; and Jaropha seeds, which are purchased from farmers by SIRONA to produce biofuel and can be grown on hillsides that cannot support crops. The biofuel was used as a “drop-in alternative to diesel engines and generators,” while it’s leftovers had the potential of replacing charcoal. Information on the solar power was limited; however, SIRONA explains that the process is sustainable, with each charging station self-supported by the community.

The initital investment of the projects depend heavily on the aid of SIRONA. Although they offset deforestation through alternative power, we would prefer a method that the community can implement without foreign aid.

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Working Villages International is a non-profit organization dedicated to lifting people out of poverty through agricultural means. Although they do not work in Haiti, their focus on advancing agricultural and irrigation methods proved beneficial, not only for driving reforestation but for supporting Haitian farmers financial. However, from our contact in Haiti, Karen Pfau, the current agricultural methods are traditional, with certain crops planted at the same time. Altering the current farming methods would require more research, especially in to researching current techniques and the purpose behind using those techniques.

In parallel with the organization, an alternative agricultural method was found, described further below.

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In China, there was a similar issue with soil erosion on the Loess Plateau. In response, terracing was used to restore the hillside. Using techniques employed in China (terracing, slope protection, and fixation), it may be possible to reverse the damage done by deforestation. It’s impossible to replenish the soil until the erosion is stopped. From there, a sustainable agricultural method can be established through cooperative efforts with the community, leading to reforestation. This has become our main focus due to the potential economic benefits of terracing and the ability of community members to continue the project without our direct assistance.

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The following is information regarding terracing and the potential crops to be used. Future research will involve determining the plants necessary and the size of land to be terraced. In this way, community members can terrace mountainous regions in pieces.



Terracing is the act of forming sloped land in to level, flat areas resembling steps. The purpose of terracing is to reduce erosion and allow for crops or plants to take root. An alternative form of terracing is slow-forming terracing, which can take 3 – 5 – 10 years to form. [1] Low cost alternatives have been implemented in Haiti on a large-scale; however, we aim to modify it to a scalable level that Haitian farmers can afford. Terracing would also require roads that provide access for vehicles, machines, and labor necessary for building the terracing unless a less invasive method can be accomplished [5].

Another aspect of terracing in the prevention of soil erosion is trapping water in the soil. Plants play a huge role in holding moisture within the soil and slowing the speed at which rain hits the soil, preventing soil erosion caused by rainfall and runoff of the water, allowing it to be absorbed by the soil [7].

There are a couple different terracing methods that were used to mitigate the effects of soil erosion on the Loess Plateau. Originally the method used was to have people hand dig or use oxen and plows to dig terraces that were about 2 to 3 meters wide. However, these were not as durable and required upkeep that fell to the wayside. The terraces that were more of a success were ones that were about 6 to 12 meters wide and constructed with machinery. They were found to require little to no maintenance and were better able to capture water [8]. In Haiti, we will probably have to incorporate both methods because some areas will not be machine accessible. However, the larger terraces have been shown to have a yield that is three times more than the smaller hand made terraces [8]. It will probably be necessary to start with the smaller hand-made terraces to convince the Haitian people that it works and is beneficial, then it will be possible and maybe necessary to progress to the larger slow-forming and machine-made terraces.


Haiti’s crop growth is most limited by the nitrogen levels. Soil deficient in phosphorus was the second most common cause. As stated in the article regarding potassium, “only 4% of soils sampled required K fertilization,” making nitrogen and phosphorus most deficient. [9] Plants used in terracing must include plants that can replenish the soil with nitrogen. As for phosphorus, fertilizer is the main practice for reintroducing phosphorus to the soil, which is beyond our scope. [21]


In addition to the crops which farmers may select, the following are plants that could be planted with the terracing:


  • Palm Tree
    Main Purpose — cash crop, deep roots, useful
    The palm tree represents the national emblem, which is currently endangered, and is used for various reasons in Haiti, from food to charcoal to religious events. Since it holds such a significance, it can be planted alongside terracing to benefit Haitian farmers financially. [2] The specific palm trees in question are Coccothrinax and Copernicia. Coccothrinax has been used to weave hats, saddle, and brooms while Copernicia, a palm tree with edible roots, has been sought after to weave durable thatch. [12] [13] Though the specific palm tree root structures are not known, the root structure of the palm tends to grow down in a cone structure to keep itself in place. [14] It should have the root structure necessary to prevent soil erosion.

Nitrogen-Enriching / Cover Crops

  • Description
    Cover crops are legumes that conserve and maintain the soil. In addition, they cover the ground effectively, suppressing weeds and keeping the soil cool. [3]
  • Alfalfa
    Main Purpose — livestock feed, nitrogen fixer, roots
    Alfalfa can fix nitrogen, which means that it can introduce nitrogen in to the soil when it dies. [10] [11] However, it requires phosphorus and potassium to grow, so it may have issues in areas lacking in phosphorus. If it successfully grows, it can also feed livestock.
  • Black / Red Beans
    Main Purpose — food security, nitrogen fixer
    Red and black beans are popular food crops and provide farmers their main source of protein. In addition, black beans fix nitrogen and can help reintroduce nitrogen in to the soil. [11] This makes black and red beans better nitrogen-enriching crops than alfalfa.

Cash Crops

  • Description
    Not all of these may be useful for restoration purposes, but they are crops most commonly grown in Haiti. If they can be incorporated, restoration may be more successful. Some of these crops include: sugar, bananas, manioc, sorghum, beans, cocoa, corn, and coffee [6].
  • Coffee
    Main Purpose — cash crop, roots
    Coffee is a popular cash crop. Though it does not contribute to the nutrition in the soil, its root structure grows parallel to the ground, making it a crop that can help with soil erosion. [16]
  • Cassava (Manioc)
    Main Purpose — cash crop, food, roots
    Cassava is not only a cash crop but used in subsistence farming to feed farmers and their families. It can also reach a higher yield when planted with beans due to the beans’ nitrogen fixing. [17]
  • Bananas Tree
    Main Purpose — cash crop, food, roots
    Bananas are another cash crop that can be sold and kept as food by farmers. They require high levels of potassium and have specific pH requirements, including a requirement for nitrogen. [18] Though they have high nutrient demand and a large water requirement, terracing collects water in the soil and the deep roots of the bananas tree will prevent soil erosion. [19] So long as it is coupled with nitrogen-fixating crops, it should balance its requirement for nitrogen. As for potassium, the soil should have the nutrients necessary since bananas continue to be grown and sold in Haiti and the soil is not substantially lacking in potassium.
  • Eggplants
    Main Purpose — cash crop
    The eggplant was mentioned as one seasonal crop that Haitian farmers sold. Upon further research, it was found that the eggplant does not work well with high-nitrogen fertilizers. [20] While the legume is not a fertilizer, the nitrogen that it releases may affect eggplant yield. Since the crops will include a nitrogen-fixating crop, eggplant would not be a good crop to combine with terracing.

The idea behind the plants is to recreate a root structure that will doubly reinforce the anti-erosion efforts of the terracing. Together, they should help to mitigate the erosion.


In Gapminder, the current levels of forest coverage are low, below 10%. Since 1990, the forest coverage has remained fairly stable, decreasing by less than 1%, while the income per person has decreased noticeably by 250 GDP/capita. Although we cannot link deforestation with GDP directly, we can state that our method should have an economic benefit. Haitian farmers will be more likely to participate if there are profits. Participation in reforestation will stabilize the soil levels, increase reforestation, and increase forest coverage.


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Eden and Karen <> <> <>
Alex Petroff, Working Villages International Contact


Gina Furio, 5th Year Animal Science Major — — (619) 847 – 2320
Vanessa Lasseson, 5th Year Mechanical Engineering Major– — (916) 473 – 3129
Gabriella Bragoli — 4th Year Agribusiness Major– — (530) 518-2961— Contact / Connection with Aid Model in Haiti