Eight Haitian interns from the Center for Formation Fritz Lafontant (CFFL) school located at the Zanmi Agrikol https://partnersinag.org/ facility in Corporant, Haiti; six interpreters and graduates of CFFL; two professional agronomists also from CFFL; two Haitian cooks, fourteen undergraduate students and four staff members from Sewanee and five mules, formed the procession that made its annual spring trek to Bois Joli, home of Sewanee’s community partners- a forty farmer co-operative that has existed for seven years. “It is an endeavor that takes months of planning, but the collaborative work is thoughtful and professional; with every passing year, these encounters deepen the sense of friendship among the two affiliates,” said Dixon Myers http://www.sewanee.edu/newstoday/top-stories-homepage/bonner-award-dixon-myers.php co-founder of the Haiti Institute in Sewanee. “When we all gather at the base of the mountain and I look up 1500 feet and several miles ahead, with mules packed with 10- gallon water jugs, loaded backpacks, pots and pans, people practicing their Kreole, French and English, and lots of on-lookers coming and going on the road, I am not dreadful of the physical challenge, but inspired by the will of the spirit of everyone coming together and accomplishing common goals.” “This is the only mode of transportation, walking, there is no other way to these remote mountain communities, if you want to immerse yourself in the culture, this is it and you live into it,” Myers commented.
Those common goals are to advance the sustainable agro-forestry practices of these farmers. The co-operative began with a nursery seven years ago that housed seedlings for 16,000 coffee, ced, kajou and mango trees. Dr. Deborah McGrath of the Biology Department at Sewanee http://www.sewanee.edu/academics/biology/facstaff/mcgrath.php partnered with Haitian agronomists and the staff at CFFL to begin this project. Coffee was chosen as a target crop because farmers in Bois Jolie desired its reintroduction into upland regions where it once grew. “By continually monitoring these plants, we are armed with data on tree survival as well as environmental variables, such as soil chemistry and canopy closure,” said McGrath. She added, “there are many farms, however, in which coffee is doing quite well, along with the other trees planted, but we are also looking for alternatives to coffee for farms on which this tree did not do well.”
The majority of these seedlings were of the variety, arabica typica. Willing interns and college students for five years have collected empirical data that shows, while some farmers have had great success with coffee survival and development, overall, it is evident that the original variety of coffee planted, quickly became diseased with rust, green scale and leaf miners and had poor survival and growth, especially during the first year after planting. This prompted the distribution and planting of a new variety, arabica katoura, which, after six months demonstrated lower initial mortality and higher growth. In addition, farmers acquired and planted more seedlings on their own, so that survival appears higher than 100% of the original katoura seedlings distributed. In addition, survey results demonstrate that after initially receiving plants, Bois Joli farmers continued to plant and care for additional seedlings of kajou, ced and mango, resulting in an average of 250% more trees planted than those initially distributed.
Myers stated that after years of monitoring and patience, what is truly amazing is to walk up to a ced tree that was from the original nursery planting and measure its diameter of 6-8 inches and its height at 25 feet tall, or seeing burgeoning coffee bushes on a farm.
Students, under the guidance of Junior Chris Hornsby, who has spent two summers and one previous spring break in Haiti, monitored 5000 trees this year. http://www.sewanee.edu/academics/environmental-studies/news/sewanee-haiti-project.php Farmers, agronomists, students and staff re-built the nursery in sturdier PVC pipe that was purchased locally and transported up the mountain. A new shade-cloth covering was installed also. Detailed construction techniques were used to help prevent livestock, birds, and other damaging factors from getting to the vulnerable seedlings. The next step for the farmers is to begin re-stocking the new facility.
This year the group spent an extra night in the camp-type environment in the school building in Bois Joli. In order to accomplish the work there was an extension of four working days versus three that had been the norm. Not only is it a challenge to make the three hour hike up the stony mountain in the heat, with full pack, to the site, but then spending three nights outside your comfort zone is an added test. “Everyone rose to the occasion and I heard no complaints whatsoever, an incredible group of people,” commented Myers.