The LEOS Foundation is co-creating a biological reserve to protect and rehabilitate Haiti’s unique biodiversity. This initiative has been supported by seed funding from the Commonland Accelerator Fund (CLAF). As the first community- and privately-managed reserve in Haiti, its establishment sets an important precedent for the future protection of Haiti’s biological heritage.
Haiti is part of an island that was geologically isolated for millions of years. A rich, rare and wonderful set of flora and fauna evolved over time. From reptiles, amphibians, mammals, insects, trees, plants – much of Haiti’s biodiversity is found nowhere else on the planet. Yet just 1% of Haiti’s primary rainforest remains. Found on top of mountain ranges, these ancient remnants are some of the last havens of this unique biological heritage. Yet due to continued deforestation, Haiti’s endemic biodiversity is close to a mass extinction.
The LEOS foundation, a civil society organization based in Haiti, is leading an initiative to create The Kapepe Biological Forest Reserve: a 19.5ha reserve in the Southern Penisular of Haiti. The reserve will connect with a biological corridor leading to the coast. Yet setting up a reserve in Haiti is not simple. According to Sandrine Laroche, director of LEOS foundation, “there is almost no idea about how to rehabilitate natural areas within the Haitian context”. The development of the reserve is then critical for protecting remaining wildlife, establishing an understanding of how to restore natural areas in a context of accelerated urbanization and competition with agricultural lands and to create, as Sandrine explains, “a chance for people to discover Haiti’s natural heritage”.
The Kapepe Biological Forest Reserve and Corridor
The heart of the reserve is found on 8ha of land owned by the Laroche family. This area will be a base for understanding how to rehabilitate natural areas in Haiti. “Through research and scientific studies we will introduce endangered plants that are native to the South Penisulular and rehabilitate the land to how is was 100 years ago”, Sandrine describes. The core activities will be research and development, so visits and other activities will be limited.
Bordering the reserve is an area designated for a development plan based on eco-tourism and creating infrastructure, like raised walking path and gardens. Thus promoting education around native flora and fauna and giving visitors a chance to witness forest rehabilitation. Surrounding this area will be a buffer zone. Here, the aim is to engage with the farming community to promote sustainable management to continue livelihoods while protecting species and rehabilitating the soil.
Community mobilisation and natural education
Engaging the community is one of the greatest challenges. “The goal of course is to have neighbours who are willing to be part of the adventure”, says Sandrine. “People are worried that they will lose land or have less access to resources. We have to demonstrate that the reserve will be more financially beneficial for the long-term”. That means working with communities living in and around the reserve to promote an understanding of what healthy forests provide. Sandrine and the team are working towards showing clear signs of restoration, “there is a spring which has been dry for years. One of our goals is to rehabilitate this spring”.
Establishing the legal framework and management
As of yet there is no community- and privately-managed biological reserve in Haiti. Therefore the initiation of the Kapepe Biological Forest Reserve and Corridor requires establishing a legal framework. The framework was drawn up conducting legal research and studying laws from the last 50 years that refer to protected areas or protecting the environment. According to Sandrine, such a framework “sets a precedent for protecting biodiversity in Haiti”.
Next to this, the LEOS Foundation work with the local authorities to develop the covenant of the reserve. Through town hall meetings and workshops, a governance structure has been established. The governance committee will consist of the city council, local mayor’s office, local association and LEOS Foundation. There will also be a friends of the reserve made up of the local community that live in and around the reserve.
An abundant future for Haiti’s biodiversity
The Kapepe Biological Reserve and Corridor is an important step in protecting and rehabilitating the unique biodiversity of Haiti. Yet it’s also about promoting a special side to Haiti, one that remains unknown to many Haitians. Sandrine has long imagined restoring Haiti’s forest and changing the future for generations to come, “growing up on my father’s stories, I imagined walking amongst trees, plucking fruit and watching wild birds and mammals. I want my kids to discover a Haiti that I did not get to experience.”