Community Forum

After a long stint of crunching numbers and writing proposals and grants since I returned from Haiti in October, I traveled to Cange once again last week with Dr. Deborah McGrath, Pradip Malde, and Will Watson for a brief trip that turned out to be a whirlwind of productivity. In an effort to distill some form of clarity out of that whirlwind, I am going to relay this past trip’s highlights in multiple posts each focusing on a key event or achievement.

After a Thursday evening departure from Sewanee at 10:30pm, and an exhausting chain of car rides, flights, and mid-night snacks at waffle house, we arrived in Cange at noon on Friday. To our surprise we walked directly from the plane into a beautifully redone airport without ever touching the tarmac. Although we were all impressed with Dr. McGrath’s energy levels and enthusiasm as she chattered away with the driver practicing Creole all the way from Port au Prince to Cange, I must admit that I was exhausted and hungry and did little more than gaze out the window and nap, taking in the feel and smell of Haiti which I had missed so much and remembered so well.

Dr. McGrath gets creole lessons from our driver on our way out of Port au Prince.

Dr. McGrath gets Creole lessons from our driver on our way out of Port au Prince. (All photo credits on this post go to Will Watson).

Well rested Friday morning, we hit the ground running with a hike to the community of Bois Jolie, which will serve as the pilot community for our project. We were accompanied by Fereste, the Zanmi Agrikol agronomist for this region who grew up in Bois Jolie and my friend  Noel Maxo, who graduated in agronomy from a University in Port au Prince and has specialized in the cultivation of shade grown coffee. They explained to us that the community of Bois Jolie has a long history of coffee cultivation, but regeneration of coffee plants has suffered because farmers lack some technical expertise needed in choosing carefully the coffee beans used to seed the next years crop. Although Bois Jolie is one one of the greenest and most beautiful areas of rural Haiti that I have seen thus far, tree cover has declined as shade grown coffee lost its prominence in the community.

From left to right: Maxo, Dr. McGrath, Pradip, and I as maxo explains to us the cultivation of beans in a particularly successful farm on the way to Bois Jolie.

From left to right: Noel Maxo, Dr. McGrath, Pradip, and I. Maxo is explaining to us the cultivation of beans in a particularly successful farm on the way to Bois Jolie.

The turnout to the community forum was huge! 97 families came to hear about the potential for regenerating shade grown coffee agro-ecosystems that will generate salable carbon credits. This turnout is hugely attributable to the great success and longstanding relationship that Zamni Agrikol has established with this community. The success of the discussion itself has certainly burgeoned by the jovial enthusiasm of Fereste as he translated and presided over our discussion. Although I felt rather bashful sitting in front of a crowd this large unable to communicate directly in creole, I think all of us present consider the conversation a huge success. The response of the farmers was both encouraging while at the same time thoughtful and realistic, which to me indicated a successful interchange of ideas.

Fereste held the attention of the members of his hometown with his charm and enthusiasm. Here explaining that carbon dioxide is like a "poison to the atmosphere" that many people are will to pay to have removed.

Fereste held the attention of the members of his hometown with his charm and enthusiasm. Here he is explaining that carbon dioxide is like a “poison to the atmosphere” that many people are will to pay to have removed.

Maxo's thesis work as a Univeristy student in Port au Prince was on shade grown coffee cultivation.

Maxo’s thesis work as a Univeristy student in Port au Prince was on shade grown coffee cultivation.

Maxo explains some details about coffee see choice and intercropping with annual food crops.

Maxo explains some details about coffee seed choice and intercropping with annual food crops.

The church pews moved outside into this thatch covered pavilion were packed tight with the unexpectedly large turnout to our discussion.

The church pews moved outside into this thatch covered pavilion were packed tight with the unexpectedly large turnout to our discussion.

Here is some of the insight we gained from this forum, as an example:

  • Most members of the forum indicated that they could dedicate approximately one carreau (a little over one hectare) of land to coffee growing activities, which is much more than the quarter hectare we were expecting.
  • Farmers communicated that they saw two ways by which implementing coffee cultivation would not inhibit their capacity to grow food. Some farmers indicated that they own land that is not suitable for annual crops but would work well for shade grown coffee. Other farmers indicated that they would choose to intercrop beans and other annual crops with shade coffee. We have discussed the spacing of plants and methods of doing this with Maxo, and he is very confident that this is a solid approach.
Following the community forum, Dr. McGrath and I had Maxo explain some coffee cultivation details to us in French. Although we could both roughly follow the conversation,  our Creole comprehension was somewhat lacking so we are thankful for his patient explanation.

Following the community forum, Dr. McGrath and I had Maxo explain some coffee cultivation details to us in French. Although we could both roughly follow the conversation, our Creole comprehension was somewhat lacking so we were thankful for his patient explanation.

  • We have located the site of our nursery. It is near a water source on privately owned land. The landowner will be compensated for the lost use of the land and will be the “responsible” for the nursery. However the community discussed and decided among themselves a system wherein alternating groups of volunteers will share the responsibility of watering the coffee seedlings and attending to the nursery duties.
Dr. McGrath and various community members taking a look at the future location of the coffee nursery.

Dr. McGrath and various community members taking a look at the future location of the coffee nursery.

  • Most importantly, we are confident that the coffee system is economically feasible and desirable to farmers without the added benefit of money earned from carbon sequestration services. At the same time, a vast majority of farmers indicated that they would choose to enter into a contractual agreement making maintaining trees for a period of decades obligatory in exchange for the the low estimates of carbon revenue we presented. They explained to us that even trimming branches will kill the coffee beneath these trees, so that this obligation is not an large additional burden. This is fantastic news because our project, although it has great potential, is the first of its kind  in Haiti. We are being very careful to ensure that any risks involved in this test run are not taken on by these smallholder farmers themselves.
Robinson is a community member of Bois Jolie who has continued the cultivate coffee. He was proud to show us his nursery.

Robinson is a community member of Bois Jolie who has continued the cultivate coffee. He was proud to show us his nursery.

Robinson

Robinson

Robinson explains how he tends to his coffee seedlings.

Robinson explains to me a little bit about how he tends to his coffee seedlings.

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