In a country that is over 98% deforested, we need to ask the question, “How did this happen in the first place?!” Let’s take a look at Haiti’s past for some answers:
“In 1804, Haiti won its independence from France after the world’s only successful slave revolution. In 1825, a treaty was signed by which France recognized Haiti’s independence in exchange for 150 million gold Francs. A significant number of Haiti’s trees were felled and exported to France in order to service the debt.
Deforestation sped up after Hurricane Hazel downed trees throughout the island in 1954. Beginning in about 1954, concessionaires stepped up their logging operations in response to Port-au-Prince’s intensified demand for charcoal. Deforestation accelerated, which had already become a problem because of environmentally unsound agricultural practices, rapid population growth, and increased competition over land.
By the turn of the century in 2000, 98% of Haiti had been deforested due to logging for timber, slash-and-burn agriculture, and the cutting of trees to fill the great demand for cooking fuel. Most of the land’s rich topsoil has washed into the sea, where it chokes the reefs and marine life.
Haiti’s mountains have eroded to bedrock and its aquifers are drying up. The habitat loss for wildlife is staggering, with many native plants and animals on international registries of endangered species. The deforestation and the resulting desertification is Haiti’s single largest ecological problem, which has had a negative ripple effect on the over all ecology of Haiti and its surrounding waters.”
So what caused Haiti’s severe deforestation?
- Slavery: After Haiti defeated Napoleon’s army (um…no one did that back then…0.o) France was angry, defeated, jealous, and wanted to ensure that Haiti would fail as a new, independent country.
- War Threats: After the Haitian revolution and independence, France threatened to return with an even stronger, larger army unless Haiti repaid France’s war debt (lost lives, lost plantations, lost labor – the slaves). How much was 150 million Francs? 21 billion US dollars at today’s rates. YIKES!!! Haiti had no other choice than to begin chopping down their precious mahogany, closing schools, and scrounging up money in whatever way possible to ensure France wouldn’t return to attack them again. It bankrupted the country…wait a minute…did you know that Haiti was the richest colony in the Americas, not only financially, but agriculturally before the war debt needed to be paid?? Haiti is now the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Soak that up for a minute. Had Haiti not already paid the debt in their blood thousands of times over?!! This began Haiti’s spiral downward into poverty
So how did this deforestation happen? Hate, jealousy, and greed, which resulted in poverty and oppression for Haiti; and for the poorest of the poor? No available means of income other than charcoal production or sometimes prostitution. (For more info, read our blog post here about the life of a charcoal maker in Haiti, Madanm Zaniyes)
What if I told you that coffee farming could be the answer?!
I’d like to highlight the work that one fantastic organization, Singing Rooster, is doing in Haiti. They are working to reforest Haiti through coffee farming! Coffee likes to be shade grown, which means coffee farming requires trees for the coffee to be grown beneath. Singing Rooster has been planting trees, including cacao trees, to support reforestation efforts in Haiti and create shade for their coffee plants. Coffee plants have taproots that can extend several meters. Taproots are the roots that extend horizontally, holding on to precious topsoil. In essence, coffee farming is helping prevent further erosion and is a valuable asset to Haiti not only as an export crop, but also as a means to help make Haiti greener again. Additionally, by planting food trees that produce more income, like mangos and coffee, the trees are less likely to be chopped down for charcoal as they have more value by what they produce than what income they could provide as charcoal. This is a win-win for Haiti!
Here are a few fun facts from Singing Rooster:
About Haitian coffee — Haiti is a small place – only slightly larger than Vermont. Plus, much of it is vertical: 65%. Haiti is the most mountainous nation in the Caribbean.
Coffee Trees Thrive Haiti : Mountains aren’t good for most agriculture, but they’re IDEAL for coffee growing; coffee trees thrive in moist but well-drained soil at high altitudes. The higher the altitude, the bigger/harder the bean, the better the coffee.
Coffee = Income + Environmentally Essential Because coffee trees are water-intensive, they do best growing in shade. Fruit trees provide ideal canopies where fruit becomes additional food. Moreover, coffee plays an important role in the reforestation of Haiti.
Farmer Owned Co-ops : Although small, Roosters are tenacious. We’re quickly building a network with small-scale farmer cooperatives; we source coffee from all major coffee regions in Haiti.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
You can support reforestation efforts in Haiti through Singing Rooster and their partnership with Empower Haiti Together. We purchase Singing Rooster’s coffee and delicious Haitian chocolate to support their agricultural work and employment in Haiti, while our sales provide funding for our projects and business expenses. Check out our latest project here, and as a reward for supporting us, we’ll send you some wonderful Haitian goodies like Singing Rooster’s coffee and chocolate as a reward!
Celebrate Earth Day every day by choosing to drink Haitian coffee,
knowing what a positive impact coffee farming is having on reforestation efforts in Haiti. <3