Above: a biodiversity project in Ile a Vache, Haiti (Photo: Tim Calver for The Nature Conservancy)
By Maxene Atis
HAITI is a crossroad where conservation, health, and livelihoods meet.
There is no other place in the Caribbean where conservation and restoration offer so much hope for the revival of the economy.
Conservation is key to restoring the country’s forest cover, which has been nearly depleted from 60 percent in 1926 to a mere 2 percent in 2014.
Furthermore, conservation is critical to address the issues of overfishing in order to prevent an irreversible natural catastrophe should fish stocks disappear.
Since 2012, The Nature Conservancy has been quietly building a foundation for what we hope will become a broad movement towards biodiversity conservation, habitat restoration and sustainable fisheries management in Haiti.
Above: Fabenise Mathurin poses with some of her Black Mangrove seedlings (Photo: Tim Calver for The Nature Conservancy)
Our work in Haiti began in the town of Tilori, along the Dominican Republic border, where more than 200,000 trees have been planted to date.
This community-based reforestation project is helping to reduce erosion on hillsides, decrease the loss of arable soil, and stop sedimentation in the Artibonite River, which supplies vast amounts of freshwater for irrigating agricultural yields in many communities in Haiti.
To complement reforestation efforts, the Conservancy has provided local families with solar stoves and energy efficient stoves.
Above: Haiti Conservation Coordinator Maxene Atis speaks to a group of women who are part of the combined cooking system pilot project. (Photo: Bridget Besaw)
These stoves help reduce dependency on wood and charcoal as the sole source of fuel for cooking, curbing deforestation and reducing health issues such as eye and lung diseases related to indoor smoke inhalation.
“The solar stove project has brought a new sense of hope and community in Tilori by educating and equipping local people and enabling them to start a new dialogue around environmental and health issues,” says Onel Joseph, the consultant in charge of implementing the project.
Above: a pilot project on Ile a Vache (Tim Calver for The Nature Conservancy)
While this project unfolds along the border, another group of scientists from the Conservancy has focused its efforts on the southwestern coast of the country.
Working hand in hand with partners such as the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and other local Haitian organizations, in 2012 the Conservancy conducted various marine and coastal environmental studies and a fisheries assessment.
This assessment helped inform the Haitian government’s declaration of the country’s first-ever marine protected area (Aire Protegee de Ressources Naturelles Gerees de Port-Salut/Aquin).
To help lessen the human pressure on the coastal marine ecosystem, the Conservancy and partners have been working in Ile a Vache to promote sustainable economic activities and support fishers’ organizations.
In May 2014, local residents inaugurated a sustainable agriculture project equipped with a solar-powered micro-irrigation system and set up a community tree nursery that will produce about 60,000 seedlings per year.
This work is complemented by an ambitious mangrove restoration project led by the Haitian government and Fondation Verte that will help better protect coastlines while also providing income to residents who cultivate and plant the seedlings.
Our local Haitian partners also helped establish three fishing organizations and one farming association in Ile a Vache in order to help these organizations conduct their activities within the limits of the laws governing fisheries and the environment in Haiti.
These community-based organizations are being trained to better manage the fisheries and develop alternative sustainable livelihood initiatives aimed at improving the local economy and reducing pressure on the fisheries.
The Conservancy’s hope is that we can create strong models for sustainable development based on collaboration between communities, conservation NGOs, and governments.
My personal hope is that these efforts will inspire people in Haiti and across the Caribbean to embrace conservation as a means to protect the biodiversity, bolster economies, and create livelihood opportunities for people.
This is our long term vision for Haiti, and I am confident that together we can make it happen.
Maxene Atis is the Haiti Conservation Manager for The Nature Conservancy Atis was born in northwestern Haiti, studied geology in Port au Prince, and did development work for the United Nations before studying business in Florida.