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: the adaptation of the project to pre-existing Haitian land tenure, tree tenure, and market systems; the elevation of micro-economic over macro-ecological themes; the decision to bypass the Haitian government and operate the project through local NGOs (non-government organizations); the use of a joint-venture mode in which smallhold- ers supplied land and labor and the project supplied capital in the form of seedlings; the use of professionally managed small-container seedling technology rather than backyard nurseries; and a project management policy that encouraged farmer-induced deviations from project assumptions in matters of tree deployment and harvesting schedules. Issues of secure tree tenure were central to farmer planting decisions. The article discusses how secure tree tenure was possible under the heterogeneous informal arrangements that characterize Haitian peasant land tenure. The approach generated the birth of several creative Haitian peasant agroforestry configurations described in the chapter. In discussing lessons learned, the authors argue that long-term environmental payoffs should be viewed, not as the principal project goal, but as secondary side effects of smallholder tree planting decisions made for short-term micro-economic reasons.
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. Population growth in Haiti, however, has led to a transformation, not of technology, but of land tenure, in the form of ritually mediated resource-sharing patterns that permit the bulk of the population to remain on the land despite serious intergenerational decreases in average landholding size.