Deforestation and Poverty
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“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
A man digs a hole for a tree on a steep, rocky slope in Mahotière, Haiti.
Across the Caribbean and Latin America, subsistence farming is often the only viable means of growing food to support a farmer and his family. Out of economic need, destitute farmers have slowly but unceasingly chopped down even supposedly protected forests, replacing them with pastures and fields. Although many of the poor understand that their farming practices are destroying the environment, they must decide between saving the land for future generations or feeding their families today.
In Haiti, there is an undeniable link between the quality of the environment and the quality of life. Widespread deforestation has led to massive erosion, infertile farmland, famine and regular flash floods, which facilitate disease and sickness as they sweep everything in their path, including garbage, sewage, animals and people into the lowest, poorest seaside slums.
Haiti has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, in part caused by the constant state of unsanitary conditions in which children are forced to live. Frequent flash floods contribute to these disease-facilitating conditions. Children whose immune systems are already taxed by malnutrition are more susceptible to disease that lurks in waste carried into their villages by flash floods.
Erosion and flooding are not the only challenges created by deforestation in Haiti. After decades of cutting down trees for charcoal production, the hills in the central part of this country lay barren.
A Haitian girl displays a young tree donated by FFP.
In an effort to simultaneously combat hunger, soil erosion, and the need to make a living, Food For The Poor contracted a nursery in 2010 to grow 15,000 trees, most of which were fruit trees. The contractor exceeded expectations and was able to grow more than 25,000 trees. These trees were planted on Haiti’s Labor Day, May 1, in 2010 in Mahotière, Haiti, a farming community high in the mountains above Port-au-Prince.
A Catholic priest in Mahotière, Fr. Occide Jean, organized the community and continues to oversee the care, use and produce-distribution from the trees, which he considers a blessing to the community. “After the earthquake, there was a complete loss of hope. This is a rebirth. Reforestation is going to help the land to be renourished, which will renourish the people,” Jean said. “Haiti is an agricultural country. Everything starts with successful agriculture. With that we can avoid the exodus from the country to the slums in the city.”
In Latin America, forest loss is also attributed to desperately impoverished conditions. Small-scale subsistence farmers try to eke out some sort of living to care for their families by clearing patches of land to grow crops. In the areas where they can find land, the soil is already so depleted that it cannot sustain agriculture. With the soil basically useless, the farmers try to use up what’s left by raising cattle on the mostly infertile soil.
A team of men and women march along a ridge to plant some of the 25,000 trees donated by FFP in Mahotière, Haiti.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, loss of forests could affect rainfall patterns globally, especially in food-growing regions in Latin America. These areas are where families plant corn as their main crop. They pray and wait on the rain. Some families are so fearful of no rainfall, they wait too long for the first planting of corn in a season. Waiting may mean the difference between having only one harvest — as opposed to two or three harvests. Waiting means a farmer’s family may not have enough food to survive during a harvest season.
The development of forests is incredibly important to the health and livelihoods of so many impoverished families in the countries where Food For The Poor serves. Planting fruit-bearing trees is a way to contribute to the eradication of poverty, especially for families who depend on these fragile ecosystems for their survival.
- July 2011
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