Hurricane Maria’s destructive winds denuded much of the island of Puerto Rico’s trees and lush tropical forests. While they will grow back, the current situation has triggered floods, landslides, loss of fertile topsoil, increased temperatures and other problems.
The loss of trees and vegetation have been concerns in Haiti for decades, both from natural disasters fueled by climate change, and from Haitians chopping down trees to make charcoal for fuel. Because the entire nation is almost treeless, from the air it’s easy to see the boundary between Haiti and the Dominican Republic on their shared island of Hispaniola, where protected trees on the Dominican side stand in stark contrast to Haiti’s barren landscape.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Haitian-American Yanique Joseph, the New Haven-based director of the Haiti Renaissance Institute. The Institute is a project of Green Cities Green Villages, which is a sustainable development and renewable energy incubator founded by Joseph in 2001. Since 2010, she’s worked with grassroots groups in Haiti, including the Association of Peasants of Fondwa and local development committees, to advocate for the establishment of a Haitian National Forestry Corps.
YANIQUE JOSEPH: The National Forestry Corps in Haiti is desperately needed, because, as you know, deforestation is massive in Haiti. Whenever there are floods, there are landslides; a lot of people die and a National Forestry Corps would help with flood management, and it would also help to keep people from uprooting trees before they reach maturity. It takes about ten years for a tree to reach maturity; that’s a very long time in a country where people are impoverished. Also, a National Forestry Corps would help to reforest marginal areas, areas that are hard to reach like mountains in Haiti. A National Forestry Corps would also create permanent jobs in forestry and flood management for Haitians.
People may have heard that the Haitian army was recently reconstituted. We at the Haitian Renaissance Institute think that was a very big mistake. Haiti does not need a Haitian army; what we need is a National Forestry Corps. It can be financed by the Haitian government, by the World Bank and other international institutions. We also believe with the support of the American people and institutions like Yale, a National Forestry Corps is a very doable achievement. The Dominican Republic has had a National Forestry Corps for more than 50 years, and it’s about time that Haiti had one.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Yeah, that would make a big difference. Besides your organization, is anybody else pushing for this? Are you working with other groups in Haiti?
YANIQUE JOSEPH: Well, ironically, there has been talk for the creation of a National Forestry Corps on and off for the last 20 years. Even the former president, Michel Martelly, the entertainer, he spoke of a National Forestry Corps when he first came to power. But nothing has been done about forming a National Forestry Corps, and we – meaning the Haitian Renaissance Institute and the Peasants Association of Fondwa – we were very disappointed and very dismayed to find out that instead of the formation of a National Forestry Corps, the Haitian army – which we do not need – has been reconstituted. And I just want to say also that according to many climate change experts, right now the most readily available alternative for developing countries to address carbon emissions is tropical reforestation, and there’s funding for it.
BETWEEN THE LINES: So is this would be something you think is likely to come to pass in the next few years?
YANIQUE JOSEPH: Yes. It is likely to come to pass, but we will need the support of the American people, of the people of New Haven and Yale and other institutions of higher learning. We’ll be working in Haiti to make it happen.
BETWEEN THE LINES: When I was in Haiti there were people selling tiny little pyramids of charcoal on the street, that was the only way they could make any money, and they were cutting down the trees – the few that were left – to make charcoal. So to reforest seems like a good idea. Even though that would be on a massive scale, are you aware of any small projects locally to do reforestation?
YANIQUE JOSEPH: Yes, there are many reforestation projects in Haiti, but they are scattershot and they are not comprehensive. In order for us to have effective reforestation in Haiti, we need a number of factors. One of them is cooking fuel alternatives. This is why the University of Fondwa and the Haitian Renaissance Initiative, we have partnered to introduce a number of renewable energy alternatives in Haiti. One of them is anaerobic bio-digester technology, which would provide cooking fuel through bio-gas to Haitian households, which would be a way to prevent people cutting down trees to make charcoal. There are also other alternatives, which consist of people and groups making charcoal out of compressed waste paper and waste bio-mass, which is plant waste. They convert it to charcoal briquettes and people are now buying these reconstituted charcoal briquettes as fuel alternatives, but that is not enough.
- “Haitians Need to Do the Hard Work of Building Institutions…,” The Haitian Internet, Oct. 22, 2017
- “Who Will Speak for Haiti’s Trees?” New York Times, Oct. 17, 2016
- “The Demise of Haiti Through Deforestation,” Washington State University, Sept. 13, 2017
- “Agroforestry and Sustainability Resource Conservation in Haiti: A Case Study,” Nathan McClintock, 2003 [pdf]
- “Charcoal Is Not the Cause of Haiti’s Deforestation,” Haïti Liberté, Jan. 25, 2017″
- “Effects of Deforestation in Haiti,” Oregon State University Ecampus (YouTube video [2:03]), May 2, 2016
- “Deforestation Made Hurricane Matthew Worse for Haiti,” Singing Rooster News, April 22, 2017
- “I’m a Librarian in Puerto Rico, and This Is My Hurricane Maria Survival Story,” The Conversation, Oct. 26, 2017
- “Death by a Thousand Cuts: Charcoal and Deforestation Threaten Hispaniola,” Global Alliance For Clean Cookstoves, Aug. 23, 2016