It is perhaps appropriate that after a month of earnestly wishing for any rain at all, our plans at the beginning of this month were scuttled because we received too much. Heavy rainfall makes many of the roads going to HTRIP communities dangerous or even impassable, but after a shaky start we held thirteen konbit, planted experimental crops in an old HTRIP demonstration parcel, organized several kilometers of road improvements, and made the final preparations to begin our 2011-2012 education cycle on the 1st of July.
In older HTRIP plots, the tree canopies have begun to close enough to create substantial shade. This is great for the soil and wildlife (including people!), but for those farmers who want to continue to practice agro-forestry, it poses a challenge for growing the traditional regime of corn and millet. That is why HTRIP, with guidance from the Yale School of Forestry, installed a small-scale trial of several shade-tolerant crops in its demonstration plot at Sous Dipon (planted 2006) at the beginning of the month. If the yams, taro, beans, and cacao trees are successful, we will incorporate them into a wider-ranging set of experimental plots next year throughout all our older communities to introduce HTRIP farmers to healthier and higher-value crops.
Our traditional May and June activity is tree planting (see pictures at end). Compared to the back-breaking terrain improvements we build at the end of the dry season, digging holes, planting trees and installing fencing is relatively tame work, and these tree plantation konbit are one of our favorite parts of the year, and a great way to begin a relationship with our newest communities. This year we also reinvigorated a few older communities by giving them a fresh start with a new demonstration parcel. All told, the HTRIP team itself planted some 1,600 trees this month. More important than the trees HTRIP planted directly this month, participating communities began planting tens of thousands of trees in their own filial plots—how many we can’t know for sure until we finish surveying all the parcels, but current estimates put us and our communities on track to have produced and planted over 250,000 trees by the end of the summer. The only new demonstration parcel we have left to plant is in our most remote community of Barbe, where road conditions have made it impossible for our cars to reach so far—we have several dates scheduled for the beginning of next month.
Anyone who has been here will testify that Haitian roads are abominable. That’s why we invest in large, heavy, durable (and expensive) vehicles. Even our redoubtable Land Cruisers, however, cannot climb some of the hills that HTRIP has to contend with, at least not during the wet season when rain washes out whole sections of road at a time. We are still committed to reaching the communities we serve and they are just as interested in having our cars get to them, so we leverage our leftover food resources to make it a little bit easier for communities to rally the workforce to repair the roads on their own. Recent work we organized near Damier might give you an idea of how far each marmite (~5.5 lbs., for rice) of HTRIP food goes with invested HTRIP communities: four teams of twenty people each are working for five eight-hour days apiece to re-grade almost a kilometer of impassable switchbacks and build water bars and drainage canals to slow down further erosion—hard physical labor with picks and sledgehammers (HTRIP is also loaning them the tools). In exchange, each worker gets a meal of beans and rice for each day he or she works. At current food prices, that’s 3,200 man-hours for $230, folks. You do the math.
We have had a steep learning curve since we got started in 2006, and nothing better illustrates how well we’ve learned to leverage our funding than the food-for-konbit model we developed to organize large work forces to install contour canals or rebuild roads. However, this month marks the end of our 2010-2011 fiscal year, and we need your continuing support to make our exciting new initiatives (like shade-tolerant crops) in 2011-2012 a success.
With your support, we will kick off the beginning of a new cycle of HTRIP activities tomorrow with a meeting of fifty-five HTRIP community leaders to plan our education program for the coming months. We could graduate as many as 1,300 people from our program next year, and we are already projecting to produce and plant 380,000 trees with your help.
The HTRIP Staff, including Starry Sprenkle and Dan Langfitt
All photos courtesy of Dan Langfitt
Above: the several trees already present in this demonstration plot at Cagile will help the trees these community members and HTRIP staff are planting (below) to grow faster in a well-documented consequence of nearby trees on new growth called, logically enough, a "nurse tree" effect. While others were rescheduled due to impassable roads, Cagile turned out to be our first planting konbit of the season on 8 June.
Left: A boy carries tree seedlings to an HTRIP technicians at a konbit at the new HTRIP demonstration plot at Drice (held at 15 June). We prepared the terrain with contour canals and rock walls back in March, and now that the rains have come al that is left is to plant.
Right: A woman at Drice plants a frenn (paradise tree) in the demonstration plot near the fence the community is building to keep foraging animals out. We usually plant hardier, faster-growing timber species like frenn or sèd (Spanish Cedar) near the outside of the plot and more fragile fruit trees like citrus species (and this year, coconut trees) closer to the center.
Below: Our last konbit of the month was held this morning on what is undoubtedly our steepest demonstration parcel for 2011, in the community of Dauphiné, a few kilometers above the HAS mountain dispensary at Tiennes. The only planting konbit still on our schedule is for the even more remote community of Barbe, where heavy rains forced us to repeatedly reschedule planting. We are hoping to finish in the beginning of next month.