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Posts Tagged ‘reforestation’


Photo: Storify
Mudslides in Haiti in 2011. Reforestation of the once lush island is badly needed, but how can people in poverty wait decades for results when a sapling could provide charcoal for a hungry family?

Recently, I read a book that I recommend highly. It’s Apricot Irving’s memoir The Gospel of Trees. I wrote the following about it on GoodReads.

Author Apricot Irving’s parents were missionaries in Haiti for several years starting in the 1970s, and Apricot’s memoir evokes what the experience meant for her as a child, a teenager, and an adult. The vividness of her writing benefits from the fact that both parents kept diaries. Her own journal, which she started at a very young age, also gives both happy and bitter memories remarkable immediacy.

Apricot’s counterculture parents were people used to hiking long distances and sleeping under the stars. They shunned middle-class materialism and thought nothing of raising children in a shack with an outhouse. (The family eventually included three daughters.) They got religion at a point in their marriage when Apricot’s mother was fed up with Apricot’s father and his remoteness. She was ready to split. A pamphlet left by her mother-in-law led to her epiphany.

When the church the couple joined needed help at a medical mission in Haiti, Apricot’s father (a hard-working farmer and forest ranger) found the mission’s reforestation sideline appealing. Off they all went to save the poor people and tell them what was needed.

Over the years, the family began to see that that’s not how development is successful. They learned what Paul Farmer of Partners in Health had been preaching for decades in Haiti — namely that the local people must lead. (Oddly, the famous doctor is never mentioned, suggesting to me there’s some enmity.)

The Irving family lived through years of getting trees started in the ravaged, depleted soil, where mudslides, destruction, and death were the norm, only to see the new growth eaten by goats or cut down for charcoal — over and over and over and over.

They lived through revolutions, political upheaval (sometimes aggravated by US military action), danger, and crushing disappointment, coming back to help any way they could after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Once back there, they relived all the ironies– paying locals to plant trees, which enabled them to buy goats, which ate the trees. By this time they knew that buying imported furniture as NGOs demanded was wrong when desperate locals were struggling to keep their own furniture businesses afloat. They knew that forcing a flourishing local cooperative to meet an NGO timeline might be dooming it to failure. They agonized for the country they still loved.

The author recounts the history of the island, going back to Columbus, who discovered what was then a lush paradise, eventually ruined by clearing the land for crops grown by slaves. And she gradually peals back the stages of her personal awakening, her conflicted feelings about the country, her wish to help, her understanding that although the job is never finished, you still need to do what you can and know that others will continue the work.

I found that I liked Apricot a lot and admired her ongoing effort to find common ground with her demanding, sometimes cruel, father. I also admired her stalwart mother’s efforts to bring cheer — especially as the mission was falling apart and all the doctors and nurses and staff were feeling demoralized.

You get to see the beauty of the country in this book and the different strengths of the people. And you especially get to see why decades of do-gooder initiatives were bound to fail. Not that the medical mission did no good at all — many lives were saved, many people got jobs and other kinds of help — but the model was unsustainable.

I can think of so many people I know who would love this book — people who work with immigrants from Haiti and elsewhere, tree people trying to protect the environment, people who love beautiful, honest writing.

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Having given myself a serious scare reviewing the film Revolution (on the planet’s race to extinction through practices such as destroying critical forests), I was happy to read about a positive forestry initiative started in India and expanded to Haiti and Kenya. The pressures are the same in those countries as in Madagascar, which was featured in Revolution, but there is also a recognition that trees are life-giving.

Gregory M. Lamb writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “Aviram Rozin was excited. He had just returned from Haiti where the 80,000 Maya nut trees that volunteers with Sadhana Forest had planted there during the past five years had started to flower. Before long each tree would be producing huge quantities of nuts high in protein and other nutrients. One tree could supply enough yearly protein for a family of five.

“The nonprofit Sadhana Forest, cofounded by Mr. Rozin and his wife, Yorit, follows three simple strategies:

“• Plant indigenous trees in arid regions that once had been forested but have become barren, useless land.

“• With few exceptions, do the work using volunteers, both local and from around the world.

“• Since trees don’t grow overnight, plan on staying around for a long, long time to see the project through.

“The Rozins started Sadhana Forest in 2003, the year after they moved to India from Aviram’s native Israel to live in Auroville, an experimental township in southeast India that emphasizes sustainable living and has attracted immigrants from all over. The couple bought 70 acres of degraded land and set about creating a community dedicated to reforestation. …

“The aim of Sadhana Forest isn’t to buy and reforest massive tracts of public land. Rather, it is to teach local people how to grow trees on their own land. Faced with the dry climate, Rozin has come up with a simple, yet innovative, way to water the trees: wick irrigation. A two-liter plastic bottle filled with water is planted up to its neck next to each sapling or tree. A piece of cotton rope fed through a tiny hole in the bottom of the bottle acts as a wick, slowly moistening the soil. Loosening or tightening the bottle’s cap can control the rate of flow. …

“Each wick bottle becomes ‘a personal watering system for each tree,’ Rozin says, yet the materials are readily available locally and cost almost nothing. …

“Rozin, who studied psychology and later worked in management for an Israeli medical device company, does not have a degree in forestry but says that may have been a blessing in disguise.

“ ‘We found out that, in a way, ignorance is bliss because we’re very open to learning,’ he says. ‘We don’t think we know everything. A lot of innovation comes from listening to people, to being open.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Sadhana Forest
Volunteer Nixon Casseus (l.) and Sadhana Forest cofounder Aviram Rozin show off the first flowering Maya nut tree in Haiti.

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After Haiti’s devastating earthquake three years ago, money flowed in. Today many funders have retreated, but a 5,000-farmer coffee-growing coop is showing it can manage with guidance and small loans.

Daniel Jensen at Global Envision (a Mercy Corps blog) writes, “Root Capital is providing loans and consulting expertise to COOPCAB, a Haitian coffee co-op that markets its products internationally while investing money in local reforestation efforts that improve its own production. The cooperative, which has expanded six-fold under Root Capital’s guidance, now includes 5,000 members …

“Managing COOPCAB comes with its own set of challenges. Meeting them requires a model that creates local business leaders rather than simply employing foreign relief workers. Root Capital’s Willy Foote explains:

” ‘COOPCAB … is managed by local Haitian farmers with little formal training in financial management and accounting. … As a consequence, we’ve had to innovate and hone our business model in Haiti, slowing our lending in the short term while accelerating and deepening our financial advisory services program.’ …

“Soon, Haitian entrepreneurs may find new opportunities to replicate COOPCAB’s model, as [U.S.] Ambassador [Paul] Altidor has asked Foote to help advise formal policy decisions. Haitian minister of agriculture Thomas Jacques also plans to create a rice commission focused on increasing domestic production.” More.

Consider buying your coffee beans at COOPCAB and giving Haiti a helping hand.

Photograph: coffeeresearch.org

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