Haiti was once known as the “Pearl of the Caribbean”. Lush rainforests and vast natural resources famously covered the country. But throughout history the people and island ecology suffered from intense exploitation. Today, the scale of degradation in the mountainous landscape is catastrophic: 42 of the 50 largest mountains have lost primary forest and ecosystems. At the current rate of deforestation, all of Haiti’s primary forest will be gone within 20 years.
More than 40% of Haiti’s population live in rural areas and agriculture is the source of income for 2/3 of the islanders. The bare hillsides and a lack of vegetation mean that a once resilient natural infrastructure is now unable to protect island inhabitants. Hurricanes regularly whip into the Caribbean country. Droughts and floods are frequent. Each year there are flattened crops and demolished homes. And the degraded landscape makes recovery from disaster events even more challenging.
There is an undeniable link between poverty and ecosystem degradation in Haiti. Due to the situation, the country has been a laboratory for NGOs and development organisations working to re-green and support economic development. But this has resulted in limited long-term success. And initiatives that do make a difference are mainly small-scale and lack support to reach country-wide impact.
The Green Pearl Programme
The “Green Pearl” programme was initiated by the Netherlands Red Cross Princess Margriet Fund and Commonland. Currently, this programme is jointly designed and implemented in partnership with the Haitian-based organization LEOS Foundation, the Netherlands Red Cross, Haiti Red Cross and United Designers. The implementing partners and international NGOs offer varied skills and connections and a vast volunteer network with experience in disaster relief and facilitation for landscape restoration is at hand.
Haitians can make their country more resilient to ecological devastation, while demonstrating that healthy, vegetated landscapes are the right environment for socio-economic development. By initiating a holistic restoration strategy, the Green Pearl Programme aims to give Haitians the tools to restore the natural infrastructure of the island and provide reliable and resilient economies.
4 Returns for Resilience approach
The 4 Returns for Resilience approach (4R4R approach) is a tool collectively designed by the Green Pearl partners. This combines a preventative disaster strategy at a community level, with the creation of increased resilience at a landscape level – through improved land management, agriculture and water harvesting techniques. This tool is created in line with Commonland’s 4 Returns vision and the Red Cross Framework for Community Resilience, aiming to improve ecosystem management, stimulate local business activity and increase community resilience in the face of natural disasters.
The 4R4R approach uses a co-creation process based on MIT’s Theory U. This establishes long-term vision with stakeholders such as farmers, entrepreneurs, local government bodies, NGO’s, experts and international institutions. Local stakeholders especially play a vital role, as through active participation they become the owners of the approach. This way, sustainability and local involvement are at the heart of the Green Pearl Programme.
Growing “Green Pearls” in Haiti: regenerating natural and community resilience
20 year vision
We believe it is possible to achieve a structural solution by regenerating Haiti’s resilience and that of its residents. The country has enormous potential. There is plenty of land suitable for forestry and agriculture, sufficient rainfall and most importantly: a young population which is longing for better times. By working together with local communities and experts we can create green pearls: safe and thriving communities living in a healthy balance between human needs, natural resources and economic development.
An economy built from a healthy landscape means that Haiti is abundant and its people live at ease. Vegetation transforms the degraded hills into a landscape populated by thriving communities, each one a green pearl. The self-sufficient and prosperous economy allows Haitians to feel secure. And there’s a bright future for generations to come.
The Green Masterplan working towards a 20-year plan
The Green Pearl Programme comprises of 30 green pearls in the whole of Haiti, bolstering resilience in communities throughout the country, offering opportunities for communities and Red Cross National Societies to learn from each other and inspire others.
Red Cross volunteers tree planting in La-Vallée-de-Jacmel in May 2019 (photo credit: Omanu Digital)
In all the pearls, the Green Pearl Programme delivers improved livelihoods, improved ability to prepare for and cope with natural disaster and strengthened social fabric.
A community conversation workshop
Across all green pearls, sustainably restored and managed land results in improved land conditions, increased biodiversity, enhanced productivity and safer communities.
Communnities building a check dam gully. During Hurricane Matthew in 2016, villages with a check dam in place were spared devastating mud and land slides.
The 4 Returns for Resilience approach supports the creation of sustainable and climate resilient productive ecosystems where local businesses attract financial opportunities for local private sector while grants are channelled from institutional donors into a Green Pearl Revolving Fund.
First produce of regenerated soil in demonstration plots run by LEOS at Vallée de Jacmel. (photo credit: Stevenson Merolin)
Restored native vegetation and watersheds support biodiversity and increase the natural resilience of the landscape.
Red Cross team maps water features in the landscape
The implementation of traditional permaculture style gardens “Jardin Lakou” increases food security and support a better management of the land.
Farmers sourcing their seedlings from the nursery at the Centre of Excellence in Vallée de Jacmel. (photo credit: Stevenson Merolin)
Processing areas to prepare products for local and international markets and a Centre of Excellence are created in different locations in Haiti to share knowledge and create market linkages.
The Centre of Excellence in construction in March 2020 (photo credit: LEOS)
La Vallée de Jacmel is the first green pearl. The local community here is already involved in the restoration efforts. The initiative is designed on three operational pillars: healthy landscapes, resilient communities and economically empowered people.
Improved ecosystem management and restoration activities re-vegetate the hillsides to provide protection and structure for soil. This also allows water to be absorbed into the soil rather than flooding down the hillsides. That creates a foundation to further build natural infrastructure and healthy landscapes. Currently the team is working on three overarching activities:
- Showcase for landscape restoration: landscape analysis and design of interventions zones; watershed restoration; reforestation activities
- Sustainable land management practices: awareness building on watershed governance; training and capacity building; providing technical assistance to farmer associations
- Environmental and climate change education: develop manuals and other education material/tools that focus on environmental protection
The team aims to foster community climate resilience by strengthening disaster risk management and coping capacity via three specific groups of activities:
- Regenerative agriculture and sustainable farming: A Centre of Excellence plays a role in improving agricultural practices providing high quality seeds and seedlings to farmers and being a hub for knowledge sharing and training schemes; developing training in Agroforestry Farm Design
- Water management and sanitation: improve watershed management practices and catalysing an equitable and accessible water and sanitation system for multiple water uses, such as public health but also livestock (cattle watering), vegetable gardens, etc.
- Eco-Disaster Risk Reduction measures: improve local and community-based early warning systems; improve disaster risk knowledge; increase disaster preparedness; review evacuation plans; develop risk consciousness among youth
Economically empowered people
The restoration of the natural infrastructure creates space for new businesses and value chains. This helps promote a self-sufficient island economy. The following approaches are being developed:
- Sustainable value chain development: identify promising and sustainable value-chains; identify suitable product (i.e. essential oils) and most suitable structure (i.e. farmers associations, farmer contracts etc.); market development and logistics
- 4 Returns Business accelerator: workshop and grants for enterprise development; diversify and stimulate local business activity; provide guidance; build capacity
- Business enabling environment: improve hardware: processing facilities, tools; vocational training; improve economic infrastructure
Activities across La Vallée-de-Jacmel which support the creation of healthy landscapes, resilient communities and economically empowered people
Role of business
- Fruit trees and other cash crops
- Essential oils distilled from citruses and other local trees
- Revitalised tourist industry
- Potential for a bio-energy industry
A young apprentice participates in planting the first batch of seedlings from the Centre of Excellence (Simon Quesseveur, Netherlands Red Cross).
Achieved so far
- Global to local partnerships formed
- Operational framework co-designed with partners
- Micro-watersheds identified for water harvesting techniques
- Completion of a Centre of Excellence: the hub for strengthening and improving agricultural techniques
- Two tree nursery established with a capacity for 41,000 seedlings
- More than 12,000 seedlings have already been planted
- Two training modules on farming and watershed management have been created
Community members planting grass strips on hillsides as erosion control measures (Osse Manuel Recule, Haiti Red Cross)
Landscape Development & Support
United States of America
Communications Officer @ Netherlands Red Cross