Making Haiti green again

(source: Baltimore Post-Examiner)

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Bare, arid mountains totally devoid of trees rise up behind a narrow fertile strip hugging the coastline in this aerial shot of northern Haiti. (Larry Luxner)

With a prayer and a speech, Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s former ambassador to the United States, has officially launched “A Dollar A Tree for Haiti Inc.”

Joseph’s ambitious goal: to restore his denuded Caribbean country to the lush green state it was in back in 1804, the year Haiti declared its independence from France.

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As Joseph explains it, the deforestation of Haiti began almost immediately following independence in 1804, at which time the struggling new country was home to only 400,000 people.

“We got independence by beating the French on the battlefield. Former slaves rose up and beat their masters. It was the first time a slave revolt had been successful,” he said. “But by 1825, the French had organized an embargo against Haiti, together with other powers including the United States. We had to pay reparations to France in wood, and soon, lots of mahogany trees began finding their way to European homes and cathedrals. That’s how the deforestation of Haiti began in earnest.”

Within 100 years, Haiti’s forest cover had declined to 60 percent, and its population began taking off.

“In 1954, Hurricane Hazel tore down a lot of forest in Haiti. People started to do logging, and charcoal became big business,” he said. “That caused the trouble we have in Haiti today — a deforested country of 10 million inhabitants which will continue getting worse unless we do something.”

A U.S. Agency for International Development study in 1997  found that deforestation costs Haiti about 30 million trees annually. Furthermore, about 15,000 acres of topsoil are washed away every year, making it more difficult for farmers to grow food.

That’s why Trees for the Future, active in Haiti since 2002, has focused on planting trees to reforest degraded hillsides and produce sustainable sources of fuel, construction materials, food and biodiesel.

Read the rest of the article on the newspaper website.

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