Seeing the Forest while Planting the Trees: An Anthropological Approach to Agroforestry in Rural Haiti

This chapter describes an anthropological approach to environmental restoration that is currently being implemented in rural Haiti, and that has stimulated an historically unprecedented level of voluntary tree planting by Haitian peasants. The overall design of the Agroforestry Project has been described elsewhere (Murray 1984). In keeping with the theme of this volume, the discussion focuses upon the underlying design principles and institutional dimensions of the Project.

To begin, the characterization of this approach as “anthropological” deserves a word. A growing number of international development projects around the world are being designed, managed, and/or evaluated with the assistance and guidance of anthropologists. The project described here has gone somewhat further. The basic design concepts of the Project were derived directly from anthropological research on the land tenure and domestic economy of the Haitian peasant. A fairly large corpus of ethnographic literature on the socioeconomic dimensions of village life was already available (for example, Bastien 1951; Comhaire-Sylvain 1952; DeYoung 1958; Erasmus 1952; Herskovits 1937; Metraux et al. 1951; Schaedel 1962; Simpson 1940; Underwood 1964. Compare also Courlander 1960; Moral 1961; Renaud 1934; and Wood 1963). My own fieldwork, carried out in the Cul-de-Sac Plain in the 1970s (Murray 1977), documented a smallholding land tenure system and cash-cropping orientation that was a variant of the same basic themes that the earlier research had uncovered.