Soil erosion and deforestation are endemic in Haiti due to centuries of agricultural exploitation, first under the colonial plantation system—intensive monocropping of export commodities such as cotton, indigo, tobacco, sugarcane, and coffee—and later by the widespread harvest of timber for export markets and the expansion of peasant subsistence agriculture on marginal sloping land. A growing urban population and an increasing demand for charcoal and fuel wood have further stressed the environment.
While rural Haiti has provided most of the nation’s revenue in the form of agriculture and natural resources, this wealth has systematically been siphoned from rural areas to the capital with little returning to the countryside in the form of infrastructure or development. Furthermore, political and socioeconomic instability has been a tremendous obstacle to sustainable resource management and foreign investment in conservation projects and research. As a result, rural populations themselves have played the most active role in combating erosion with traditional agroforestry technologies, yet the rate of degradation is too great for these efforts to be truly sustainable. Millions of dollars have been spent by donor aid agencies on large-scale agroforestry initiatives over the last several decades to address the dire state of Haiti’s environment, yet many of these projects have ended with little to show. Projects involving local farmers, gwoupman peyizan (peasants’ groups), and indigenous knowledge have been more successful and offer the greatest potential for effective conservation of Haiti’s natural resources