It is not an easy thing to solve the problem of deforestation in Haiti, which is directly tied to the earth’s environment. In search of a solution, some people carried out experiments, others invested a lot of money, several organizations were established, all without much results. It is a frustrating subject. In this article, I investigate past and present practices, and provide future perspectives.
Haiti was a green country, wooded during the pre-Columbian period, at the time of its discovery as well as its independence, and until 1908. It was one of the countries in the Americas where one could find good quality timber. People from European countries bought the Haitian wood products. The forests disappeared and nowadays forest cover is extremely low.
Figures for Haiti’s forest cover are hard to come by. There are not many state-owned forests. One year ago, I visited one of these: “Forêt des Pins” (the Forest of the Pines). This forest used to have more than 32 hectares of wooded land. In 1998, according to an expert’s analysis, only 28 hectares were left. A group of agronomists works in the area for the Haitian government. One agronomist stated: “ I don’t believe in the disappearance of the 4 hectares of forest.”
He added: “I would have known because I am on the spot. We don’t think that all of these woods could disappear so easily. Of course, there are some forest fires; some people cut the wood to have a small garden or prepare boards for furniture. The cutting of wood continues.”
Another state forest is “Park Macaya” in the Southwest of Haiti. The park measures about 5,500 hectares and, before the 1990s, received more than 4,000 millimeters of rain annually. At a close by waterfall, Saut-Mathurine, which provides electricity to a large town Les Cayes, employees told that the water level of the Saut has lowered, due to deforestation.
We do not know how many forests remained wooded. During my visit to Camp-Perrin in October 1998, I learned that the Haitian government did not have the control of the Pick Macaya. This means that no one is currently working in this forest. An inhabitant of the village told us that state employees refuse to go to the Pic Macaya to avoid problems with people living there.
What are the roots of the deforestation? (It would be good to know what happened during the colonial period and during the occupation to determine what accelerated deforestation as, for example, the export of ” campêche” wood and other practices that were used at those times).
The roots of deforestation begin at the time of the discovery of Haiti in 1492, although deforestation had not yet begun. One can say that the inhabitants of the country and even the newcomers could find what they wanted without doing anything to the nature. At the time of Christopher Columbus, wooded forests represented 95% of the territory. Yet, at the time of the French occupation in 1791, the forest cover represented only 50% of the territory. In 1956, it represented 20% and in 1989, only 2%. This shows that the Spanish had not only carried away the gold of the country but had left with our better woods, like “campêche” without forgetting the gold and everything that was useful to them, after having slaughtered as many people as they could. Of course, the French and the American had their share of the cake. From 1492 to 1956, one notices that 75% of our forests had disappeared. During this period, one can say that the country was always in the hands of the great powers: after the Spanish occupation, we had the French and later the American occupations. This created a mess within the population that does not manage to control the size of their family, although they nearly have nothing for a living. Their last resource is to cut the woods that would be sold to the baker, the laundry businesses, those making boards, or for charcoal, etc.
What can be done to stop this situation?
One remembers what decisions the government had taken before 1986 to punish those that cut wood: they seized the boards as well as the charcoal that were being brought to the city. Unfortunately, this measure was not adequate. Until now, there is a certain control again on the boards that come from the Pine Forest but these measures are not always adequate. Those who are in charge of the surveillance of the forest confessed that they have neither the means nor the equipment to do their jobs.
Efforts achieved in reforestation
The government, the church, and the NGOs have always prepared nurseries, distributed trees. These trees have been planted but most didn’t sprout and among those that sprouted most didn’t grow. It is the reason why some enterprises like Valerio Canez, Tropigas and Sodigaz, in the search of a solution against deforestation, launched on the market in 1989 a burner called “Bip Ti Chéri” in order to partially solve the problem of charcoal.
Sodigaz had a project to reduce to 50% the quantity of charcoal used in Port-au-Prince for the next five years. With a burner that only costs 100 gourdes and a full gas carboy for only 15 gourdes one considered this program to be a good one. The stores that sold these burners told us that they made good business with them. Unfortunately, after ten years, this burner is only a dream.
This same burner costs now more than five times its price—650 gourdes—and a filled carboy costs 40 gourdes. Although people are trying to invent other burners such as one that could function with solar energy or with kerosene—like the one made at the Shop of the Camp-Perrin School which only costs 300 gourdes—the problem of the deforestation continues to worsen.
What is the solution to these problems?
If the state wanted to lead an investigation, one would notice that the project started by these three organizations had a positive impact on the population who thought that this burner was the most economic means for them to cook. Below, you can have an idea of why their project was positive:
1 kilogram of gas = 5 kilograms of charcoal = 25 kilograms of wood (before their transformation in charcoal)
If one uses the burner during 20 hours in one week, one will need approximately 15 kilograms of charcoal or 75 kilograms of wood.
Not to forget: a carboy of gas for the burner “Bip Ti Chéri” only weighs 2.75 kilograms.
We have a saying: “if there were not any bribers, there would not be any corruption.” We must try to make these bribers disappear because a burner that does not cost much is already a step in the good direction. It could decrease the consumption of charcoal used by 75% of the population of Port-au-Prince. The laundries, the bakeries and other businesses could also find other sources of energy for their service.
All this shows that the problem of deforestation is not going to be resolved overnight unless the government and the NGOs that work in this domain want to help people who have some good projects. Similar projects by the government would reduce the phenomenon of deforestation that remains a challenge for country.
For the research I used M. Edmond Magny’s book, “Natural Resources, Environment: A New Approach.” Forinformation I visited Forêt des Pins and I spoke to some state employees and to some inhabitants of the village. A Camp-Perrin I spoke to the leaders and to the inhabitants. For the public point of view and the stores, I spoke to some people in Port-au-Prince.
(Merfy Jirolien, Coordinator of INHAEC: Haitian Information on the Ecology)