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Tree by Tree: Reforesting Haiti

• January 27, 2010 • 4:15 PM

Reforesting efforts in Haiti may not provide immediate relief, but could create a renewable and sustainable supply of food and fuel for desperate villages.

The Marines, the Red Cross and countless other charity organizations are getting their boots on the ground to offer tangible, immediate aid to quake-stricken Haitians. Relief may come as simple as a dry biscuit and water delivered by the U.N. World Food Program or as complicated as surgery performed by Doctors Without Borders.

Amid the tremendous effort to stave off hunger and slowly repair the tattered nation, another nonprofit, Trees for the Future, is continuing to do what it has done in the country for eight years: plant trees that produce much-needed fuel and food for rural villages.

The organization, founded by Grace and Dave Deppner in 1989, has offered rural populations worldwide the opportunity to receive training in sustainable farming and provided the seeds and assistance to reforest these areas. In outposts ranging from Burkina Faso, the Philippines, Honduras and others, the nonprofit has earned its name (and a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, the highest available) by assisting in reintroducing precious — and often depleted — resources to villages.

“People in these villages are motivated,” explained African and Caribbean program officer Ethan Budiansky. “They understand they need to plant trees, but they don’t have the resources. They don’t have a wheelbarrow, shovel or training to do it.” The organization provides the materials and agroforestry training to enable farmers to build sustainable food crops and fuel resources.

Prior to the earthquake in Haiti, the nonprofit had worked with 13 villages north of Port-au-Prince in 2009 to provide nurseries that harvested relatively fast-growing multipurpose trees (for fuel) and mango, avocado, citrus and guava fruit trees, among others.

The help couldn’t have come at a better time: Over decades, Haitian forests have been decimated by a population desperate for food and fuel, depleting resources and creating a stark border between the country and its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. Last year, Trees for the Future helped plant more than 1 million trees on this battered landscape — a number they plan to top this year. “We’re aiming to plant 1.2 million trees and assist 15 communities in 2010,” said Budiansky.

After being rocked by the 7.0 earthquake, the resource center in Leveque, a small town north of Port-au-Prince, has been acting as a middleman between the villages and the eager charity groups looking to give immediate supplies. A small, full-time staff of four delivers “needs assessment” for villages that contact the outreach center, helping and advising in any way they can before planning a potential tree-nursery project.

The greatest need at present is for food. Beans, yams, eggplant and peppers are being disseminated — the types of crops that can provide some relatively immediate, and hopefully sustainable, relief.

“Especially now after the earthquake, we’ve been providing resources and training to grow food crops,” said Budiansky. “[The goal] is for an individual to farm that same piece of land and benefit from it.”

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Erik Hayden
Former Miller-McCune Fellow Erik Hayden recently graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Religion. He regularly contributes for a variety of publications including the Ventura County Star and the alt-weekly, VCReporter.

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