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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.