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A Million Trees for Haiti: Global South Partners Address Climate Change



By Leonie Hermant in and Karen Ashmore, Lambi Fund of Haiti

from Environmental Grant Makers (EGA) Journal, Spring 2008


At EGA's 2005 Fall Retreat, Karen Ashmore met 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai. From that first meeting, the Lambi Fund of Haiti (LFH), of which Ashmore is executive director, and the Green Belt Movement (GBM), of which Maathai is founder and leader, initiated a multi-year partnership and mutual exchange program to address climate change with a large-scale reforestation movement in Haiti. Extensive deforestation in Haiti—described by one recent UN report as "one of the most degraded countries in the world"—not only aggravates climate change but also threatens the country's farmland, watersheds, and biodiversity. Flooding from hurricanes, a result of both deforestation and soil erosion, destroys Haiti's agricultural region.


Over the years, LFH had funded several Haitian community organizations to reforest their surrounding areas, but wanted to take reforestation to the next level with a world-class collaboration. The LFH-GBM partnership represents a historic effort with the Global South to plant one million trees in Haiti, an island nation of 27,000 square kilometers.


As one of the most prominent civil society organizations, the Green Belt Movement is an ideal partner. Based in Kenya, it advocates for human rights and supports good governance and peaceful democratic change through protecting the environment. While Maathai founded it in 1977 as a grassroots treeplanting program to address the challenges of Africa's deforestation, soil erosion, and lack of water, it is now a vehicle for community empowerment. Working with Kenya's diverse population (including 40 different ethnic and linguistic groups), the movement has planted more than 30 million trees throughout the country. Soil erosion has been reduced in critical watersheds; thousands of acres of biodiversity-rich indigenous forests have been restored and protected.


Founded jointly in 1994 by Haitians and Americans, LFH also has a history of effectiveness. A foundation whose mission is to assist the popular democratic movement in Haiti, LFH works throughout Haiti's rural communities, which constitute about 60 percent of the country's total population of eight million. Taking its lead from the peasant and women's organizations it supports, the fund focuses its funding in five main project areas: sustainable development, community microlending, animal husbandry, conservation of Haiti's waning natural resources, and organizational and leadership training. LFH's original, bottom-up development model has succeeded because it relies on Haitians themselves to determine the needs and most effective solutions in each community. Such community participation is what is needed to reforest Haiti.


An Ambitious Plan


This joint project will address the problems of Haiti's land degradation, in particular deforestation and soil erosion, by promoting improved land-management practices through sustainable agriculture and large-scale and small-scale reforestation initiatives. Its main goals are to build local and national capacity to support sustainable land management and to develop communityled projects on reforestation and management that address land degradation.


Specific objectives include:


  • Plant one million trees in Haiti.

  • Provide training and technical assistance to community organizations.

  • Facilitate peer-led exchange and solidarity between Kenya and Haiti to share best practices, including recognition of advocacy and support by peasant women.

  • Stage pilot demonstrations and implement scaleup of the reforestation program.

  • Sponsor regional conferences and public education campaigns to strengthen reforestation movementbuilding.

  • Provide microfinancing to support small-group implementation of projects related to reforestation.

  • Complete documentation and evaluation of the project.

  • Facilitating Mutual Exchange Two years of open and ongoing dialogue between LFH and GBM have produced a number of concrete recommendations that were eventually adopted as the building blocks for a strong partnership. One critical issue identified was the quintessential need to learn about each other. While reforestation is the ultimate goal, the two partners are embarking on a collaborative effort between organizations operating within very different cultural contexts. GBM's and LFH's vision, philosophy, and strategy each had to be assessed in order to create clear, measurable, and attainable goals that considered organizational, political, and socioeconomic limitations.


In October 2007, adhering to the joint work plan calling for peer-to-peer exchange, four leaders of the GBM arrived in Port au Prince, Haiti and traveled to the Haitian countryside with LFH leaders to visit with local peasant-led groups working on reforestation. The visit offered GBM representatives the opportunity to learn about Haiti's degraded environment and its impact on both rural and urban communities. It also allowed GBM and LFH representatives to gain a deeper understanding of each other's philosophy, methodology, accomplishments, and challenges.


Next Steps


The next steps in implementing the reforestation goals are to assess the trip and discuss areas of mutual interest in which LFH and GBM will partner to improve Haiti's environment through sustainable grassroots efforts. Representatives from LFH will meet with GBM and some of its grassroots partners in Kenya later this year, learning directly from the people leading the reforestation projects with GBM in Africa.


In preparation for the visit to Kenya, LFH staff and stakeholders are conducting a seminar assessing existing reforestation strategies, identifying practices that work and those in need of improvement. Participants will review GBM's Kenyan approach to reforestation and discuss what may or may not work in Haiti. This effort is central to the partnership's success, as it ensures that strategies adopted include the input of key partners and stakeholders whose support will be critical to translate the plans into action.


At the summit, both partners—now armed with more complete information about each other—will form an action-driven plan, and will map out strategies for sustainable reforestation in Haiti, nurtured by a strong commitment to a common vision, the flexibility to seek resources jointly, and a willingness to adapt.


LFH and GBM plan to devote almost one million dollars to the project over the next three to five years. With a base of seed funding established, the two organizations are inviting other funders to partner on this groundbreaking and historic project in a country that is impoverished economically but rich in culture and tradition. Those interested in more information can contact the executive director (eMail Lambi Fund). Join this exciting opportunity to make a difference and address with tangible results the impact of climate change in the Global South.

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