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...
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.
Though differing in emphasis from each other, several attempts to explain rural Haitian poverty, including the field studies of Moral (1961) and the more recent literature searches by Zuvekas (1978) and Lundahl (1979), have concurred in their identification of deforestation and soil erosion as major impediments to economic well-being in rural Haiti. Largely in response to Zuvekas' findings, several planners in the late 70's, aware that large sums of money had been wasted on unsuccessful reforestation and erosion control projects in Haiti, asked whether the root of the failure might not lie in Haitian peasant land tenure insecurity, in an unwillingness on the part of the Haitian peasants to make long-term investments in land in which they felt they had little long-term security.
In the following pages, I will present both descriptive and quantitative information, gathered in a Haitian village during 21 months of fieldwork. information reveals the somewhat unexpected but empirically convincing and critical role which Haitian-peasant Voodoo plays in the contemporary land tenure system; specifically, this cult was found to function as a partially camouflaged resource-circulating mechanism, a role that seems to have arisen in the context of recent population growth.
This study, based on twenty-one months of fieldwork, documents the occurrence of "cultural evolution" in the form of a series of adaptive land-sharing strategies that have emerged in a Haitian peasant community, serving as a partial buffer against the deleterious impact of internal population growth. The recent anthropological literature on agricultural intensification emphasizes adaptive changes in technology as an agrarian response to population growth.