Soil Erosion: Developing agroforestry in Haiti
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Buteau, Louis. 2005. Soil Erosion: Developing agroforestry in Haiti. Spore 120. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48044
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore120.pdf
Developing agroforestry in a mountain setting means battling with soil erosion and breathing new life into Haiti s agriculture...
Developing agroforestry in a mountain setting means battling with soil erosion and breathing new life into Haiti s agriculture. At present, sloping land is being damaged by inappropriate farming techniques practised by farmers who take the line of least resistance to ensure day-to-day survival. Between independence in 1804 and the 1980s, Haiti witnessed a struggle between large and small-sized properties. The evidence speaks for itself: only the small-scale properties have remained in place to feed the population it is these that have shaped Haiti s agriculture. But in the early 1980s, these concerns began to lose momentum, a process which became even more marked in 1985, with the onset of the troubles that led to the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier. Today, in some departments, the average farm is just 0.32 ha. Between 1985 and 1989, agriculture s contribution to Haiti s gross domestic product (GDP) fell by an annual 5% and, from 1990 to present day, that trend has continued. Agriculture currently accounts for 27% of the GDP and 7.4% of exports. Yields of the main crops are lower than those of any other country in the region and Haiti imports nearly all the products it consumes. One reason for this constant fall in output is erosion, which causes a loss in soil fertility. And in Haiti, the problem of erosion is tied up with poverty, insecure land access and inadequate farming methods. Tonnes of lost soil Farming as practised in Haiti eats away at the country s soil capital. When a farmer notices a decline in fertility on the plot of land he is farming, he looks for other land, whether it is arable or not. This constant search damages our country s natural resources. Wooded land and forest cover is diminishing due to the advance of agriculture and the search for fuel wood. Techniques do exist for effectively combating erosion, but they are not practised. As with agriculture, the fight against erosion suffers from a lack of investment, and for almost 2 years now, Haiti has been living under a transition government which cannot make a long-term plan. If the fight against erosion is closely connected with the challenge of developing mountain agriculture in Haiti, that is because 63% of the land is mountainous. Half the population lives in mountainous terrain. So an integrated system of mountain agriculture is essential if environmental protection and economic development are to co-exist. How much soil is lost in Haiti? Nobody knows. During the American occupation, between 1915 and 1934, demonstration plots were set up to quantify the country s particularly acute erosion phenomenon. FAO did the same in the 1970s. Soil scientists worked out that Nature takes 30 years to produce a layer of arable soil 25 mm thick, or 11 t/ha, and that figure represents the minimum thickness if the land is to be profitable. Now in Haiti, soil losses sometimes exceed 120 t/ha! Farming is practised on any kind of land and any kind of slope. Slopes with a gradient of 60% are ploughed. We need to establish a typology: all land with slopes of between 0 and 20% would be cultivated, with no soil conservation intervention. Land with slopes of between 20 and 50% would also be farmed, but using drastic soil conservation techniques: contour channels, terraces, alley cropping, living hedges, etc. All land with slopes of more than 50% would be used for growing fruit trees and agroforestry. On flatter land and plains, agroforestry systems established around land plots would allow farmers to diversify their source of revenue. Previously, coffee was widely grown in Haiti. It is still grown, but due to the fall in world prices, farmers have largely replaced it with more profitable crops such as beans and yams. But growing these crops causes more erosion. Fruit farming has suffered due to political instability and lack of road transport the fruit did not reach its destination quickly enough, even for the domestic market. An alternative for farmers Let s be practical, unless there is more research, information and assistance, farmers are never going to change their practices. There is no point in trying, unless we have alternatives to suggest to them. So there needs to be funding, and better access to land and credit. The farmers need some kind of subsidy. That is crucial if fruit farming and agroforestry are to be developed. Increasing access to land for farmers is just a half-measure if you don t also give them a suitable technology package to go with it. We need to help them buy inputs and farm tools, to diversify their revenues by supporting on- and off-farm activities such as fruit processing, honey production, small-scale livestock rearing and ecotourism. We need to help them develop and improve post-harvest storage techniques, so they can access outside markets, as well as domestic ones. All this needs to be achieved within a well established macro-economic framework, without infringing the rules of the World Trade Organization. But we also need to work out a programme for subsidising agriculture. And there is the rub, for at present we are living in an economic climate that is far too liberal. The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect theviews of CTA.