Why Haiti needs forests

I’ll make this short because I’m knackered from cycling all day. All you have to do is click here and donate; it’ll take two minutes and you don’t even have to sweat.

People often talk as though we had to choose to either protect ecosystems or else choose economic development. Nothing could be further from the truth. Haiti’s economic development depends on its ecosystems. I truly believe that a thick forest cover would solve a lot of Haiti’s problems at once. Here’s how:

COFFEE

noun_100969_ccCoffee is the world’s most traded commodity after oil. Now coffee is a shade-grown plant, evolved to grow in the understory of subtropical forests. When I lived in the coffee-growing regions of Guatemala I’d see coffee growing underneath avocado trees all the time.

If you’ve had Haitian coffee, you know how damn good it can be. Haiti was the Guatemala of the 18th century, when Haiti’s forests produced more than 50% of the world’s coffee.

Compare the $20 billion value of annual world coffee exports to the $8.4 billion gross national product of Haiti, and you’ll see that recapturing just a small slice of that market share would mean a game-changing injexion of cash for this country. But you can’t grow coffee without forests.

WATER

noun_63423_ccLarge swathes of Haiti currently have are suffering from bad droughts. Forests prevent drought in at least five ways. I don’t have time to get into the details, but for now just consider that trees give shade, and shade prevents evaporation.

Ironically, the country also suffers from floods. Trees can mitigate that problem too. How? Imagine a wall of water from a sudden rain flowing down a bare hillside. There is nothing to stop its violence. Plant that hillside with trees and a lot of the momentum is taken out of the rushing water, and a lot of the water is absorbed by the trees and their rootzone.

NUTRITION

noun_38065_ccMost Haitians are subsistence farmers. While there are no reliable statistics (findable by me), everyone who’s spent time here knows that micronutrient deficiencies are widespread. One of the trees I am planting, moringa, provides broad-spectrum defense against this type of malnutrition.

In parts of this country that are not deforested, you can see some amazing fruit forests, where nearly every trees bears either avocadoes, mangoes, bananas, breadfruit, or some other tropical fruit. I’ve spoken to people living in these areas who haven’t bought food in years. It is possible here.


I’ll leave you with those three for now. I gotta go fix a flat tyre, so I’ve no time to talk about how mangroves block hurricanes, how bamboo is the most earthquake-resistant building material, how Haiti could export mangoes and avocadoes to Florida, how breadfruit is more productive than rice. It is really amazing how many things trees do for a society.

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