Haitian Peasant Tree Chronicle: Adaptive Evolution and Institutional Intrusion

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During ten years of operation, between 1981 and 1991, the Agroforestry Outreach Project (AOP) made it possible for some 200,000 peasant households throughout the ecologically and politically ravaged country of Haiti to plant over sixty million fast-growing wood tree seedlings on their land. The unexpected participation of as much as 20 percent of the entire rural population in this tree-planting effort vastly exceeded what anyone had anticipated. Several articles and reports (for example, Conway 1986; Murray 1984, 1987; Lowenthal 1989) have discussed the project’s conceptual and methodological underpinnings; how it used anthropological theory and ethnographic methods to reformulate the relationship between trees and people in a manner acceptable to Haitian villagers, and how it employed nongovernmental channels to implement the project, bypassing Duvalierist ministries to assure that donor funds would reach intended beneficiaries in the form of income-generating seedlings.

After ten years of effective operation, the project was renewed for yet another five years. But it was brought to a sudden halt by bureaucratic interventions in 1991. Even though it was partially resurrected in early 1995, it is important to examine the vulnerability of such an undertaking to institutional oscillations. Although tens of thousands of rural households benefited from the AOP’s provision of trees, this case shows that even well-functioning projects can be damaged by institutional meddling.



Peasants, agroforesters, and anthropologists: A 20-year venture in income-generating trees and hedgerows in Haiti

This chapter examines the evolving trajectory and emerging lessons from twenty years of agroforestry project activities in Haiti that made it possible for more than 300 000 Haitian peasant households – over a third of the entire rural population of Haiti – to plant wood trees as a domesticated, income-generating crop on their holdings. Unusual popular enthusiasm for the project derived from several anthropological and technical design factors…

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The Tree Gardens of Haiti: From Extraction to Domestication

In this paper I will be discussing the Agroforestry Outreach Project (AOP), a tree-planting project in rural Haiti in whose design and management there was an unusually high level of participation by several anthropologists. Though the details of this particular case are interesting in themselves, here they will be used principally as a vehicle for examining the relative advantages of “privatized” versus “collectivized” approaches to planned natural-resource interventions. Conservation advocates are often opposed to privatization. They correctly point out that the intrusion of an extractive, privatized income-generating approach to land where tropical forests currently stand leads more often than not to the destruction of natural biodiversity.

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Having done anthropological fieldwork on the evolution of Haitian peasant land tenure, I was invited by USAID/Haiti in the late 1970s to carry out research exploring possible linkages between land tenure variables and the failure of most tree planting projects to motivate Haitian peasants to plant trees. I was specifically asked to assess the degree to which land tenure insecurity served as the principal disincentive to peasant tree planting.

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