HISTORY OF SOIL EROSION AND SOIL CONSERVATION Legacy of Erosive Agricultural Practices Substantial soil erosion has been a problem in Haiti since the colonial period when mountain forests were cleared for coffee production, and plantation crops (cotton, indigo, tobacco) were clean-cultivated (scraping weeds between plants, and pre-till field burning). Some reports state that due to excessive erosion coffee plantations were difficult to reestablish after the first generation, and indigo crops were only productive for three years (Paskett "et al." 1990). After the revolution, the slaves "cum" peasants combined remembered horticultural practices of Africa with learned agriculture and plantation cultivation methods of Haiti. The result was a mixed system where Haitian farmers clean-cultivate agricultural crops, burn crop stubble prior to tilling, periodically leave annually cropped parcels fallow for an extended period, and establish tree gardens around family compounds. With increasing populations, and resulting pressure on the limited arable lands, the fallow practice has increasingly been precluded, tree gardens have diminished in size, and peasants have steadily moved to less desirable mountain lands for annual crop culture. Agriculture and clean-cultivation, two erosive and resistant remnants of the colonial period, have been carried from the plains to the mountain slopes by the new generations. Indigenous Anti-Erosion Innovations The widespread annual cropping of hill slopes is a fairly recent phenomena, it was not until the mid twentieth century that substantial numbers of farmers were faced with new, sloping cultivation conditions. Some peasants have adjusted the techniques developed on, and appropriate to the plains in ways which mainly conserve soil moisture, require limited amounts of labor and non-financial input, and can be implemented with the common tools; hoes and machetes. These techniques are also predominantly found in ravines and in association with higher valued crops ("e.g." rice, bananas, taro). With limited exception, they are not commonly found in extensively managed gardens planted to cereal crops. Indigenous innovations associated with annual cropping which conserve soil and water include: "zare" (soil and stubble scraped up into a mound to retain water for rice cultivation); "sakle en woulo" (weeds hoed into small mounds along the contour at one pace intervals); "ramp pay" (stubble gathered along the contour and supported with stakes); "dig ravin" (assorted plant and soil material placed in ravines to retain soil and water for banana, taro, rice or yam cultivation); "bit" (soil heaped into mounds for sweet potato cultivation). These techniques, where practiced in the traditional manner, must be reconstructed on an annual basis, and are frequently inexactly constructed and relatively inefficient in controlling soil erosion. The "tram", a peasant innovation, is the combination of the "bit" and a contour seed bed promoted by a Haitian agronomist. Since the 1950s when this innovation took place it has become standard practice in the vegetable producing areas of Furcy. In analyzing the evolution of the "tram" the anthropologist G. Murray concluded that peasants were not interested in saving their soil "per se", but in saving the fertilizer sown for vegetable production. In essence, "erosion control has occurred as the secondary result of an innovation whose primary function, from the peasants viewpoint, is the immediate enhancement of their cash profits" (Murray 1979:58). This finding is consistent with the author's finding that the indigenous "dig, woulo, ramp pay," and "zare" are constructed to retain moisture for enhanced crop productivity, not to necessarily to retain soil. Review of Soil Conservation Project Approaches Conventional Approaches Since the initial development aid of the early 1950s, Haiti has witnessed numerous reforestation, soil conservation and watershed management projects, the majority of which, by most accounts, have produced disappointing results (AID 1990, BREDA 1988, Murray 1979). Most major development projects have utilized an "equipement du territoire" approach which assumes that enhanced rural welfare will automatically follow investments in engineered environmental rehabilitation. This approach has been characterized by large-scale prescriptions of contiguous land and large ravine treatments, mechanical rather than biological structures, and monetary and commodity incentives to attract peasant adoption (Lilin and Koohafkan 1987). Highly degraded and steep lands have often been the target for intervention. Contour rock walls, canals, and bench terraces, the internationally standard techniques, have been the primary techniques promoted by international donors and professional technicians. The use of this approach and these techniques has been criticized for its orientation to long-term and downstream environmental benefits rather than short-term and on-site socio-economic benefits; its disregard for indigenous knowledge and techniques, socio-cultural institutions and land tenure complexities; for creating dependencies; for not responding to primary peasant motivations, needs or requests; and for failing to result in the sustained adoption and maintenance of the promoted technologies (Murray 1979 and Lilin 1986). In short, because of the pervasiveness of such projects in rural Haiti, many peasants have become accustomed to being approached by alien people intent on transferring alien technologies for frequently alien reasons. To a large degree, these technologies have not been adopted or maintained by peasants and have not spread beyond the immediate project boundaries. Current Approaches An "agricultural parcel" approach to soil conservation developed in the early 1980s in response to the weaknesses of the conventional soil conservation approach stated above and the recognition that: 1) farmer remuneration was not necessary for technique adoption and even acted against technique maintenance and diffusion; 2) a number of indigenous techniques existed which could be improved, and; 3) peasants have a natural incentive to conserve soil in order to increase agricultural production. This new approach takes a farmer rather than an engineering perspective of soil erosion and as primarily an "upstream" agricultural problem rather than a "downstream" sedimentation problem. Projects adopting this approach target individual parcels and do not disburse external incentives to encourage adoption. Increased agricultural production via retained moisture and soil is the primary incentive for farmer adoption of soil conservation techniques. Due to the success of projects utilizing the "agricultural parcel" approach in achieving sustained adoption: consensus among technicians is currently emerging in which the "agricultural parcel" approach should be used when targeting private lands, and the conventional "equipement du territoire" approach be subsequently employed to treat the "public" ravines. This basic strategy has been recommended by STABV. Remuneration would be used only in cases of collective effort for collective good (such as the treatment of public courses or public roads). Current Extension Modes In addition to overall project approaches, implementors choose different extension modes and methods to promote soil conservation techniques. Put generally, current extension modes can be separated into three broadly defined categories (adapted from Murray 1990): 1) A comandante mode in which adoption occurs because of either project authority or project disbursed wages (Murray 1990). This mode is usually associated with joint GOH/international donor projects which use the "equipement du territoire" approach. This "peasant persuasion" mode can result in rapid construction of treatments but can also jeopardize long-term development objectives. When used for installation of hillside treatments it has not generally resulted in maintained structures, sustained soil conservation or crop production increases. Ravine treatments constructed with this mode have however received a higher degree of volunteer maintenance. 2) A technique by task mode in which an agricultural extension type network organized by specific extension tasks is used solely to promote project selected techniques. The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) agroforestry hedgerow campaign, which since 1988 has paid extension agents for each meter of structures established on private land is an example of this approach. This approach is based on project-peasant conversation, is generally administratively efficient and has resulted in a large number of treated parcels. 3) A integrated and participatory promotion mode in which soil conservation techniques are developed and extended along with other agricultural system interventions. Techniques are frequently based in indigenous practices and are refined and promoted with the participation of local farmers. Projects employing this mode usually focus on select communities and use peasant groups as vehicles for technique diffusion. The MCC's Bois de Lawrence project and SCF's Maissade project are examples of this approach. Project experience has shown that investment in peasant organization can permit the voluntary treatment of common soil conservation problems such as "public" ravines. As soil erosion problems are immense and diverse in Haiti, each of these modes used appropriately can and has made a contribution to soil conservation and enhanced rural welfare. The differences between the modes are fundamental and choice between them would be based on implementor objectives, level and duration of funding. Projects employing the comandante mode calculate that the cost of paying upstream farmers is worth the protection of downstream investments. Those employing the promotion by task mode aim to enhance the welfare of individual farmers, and those employing the integrated and participatory promotion mode cast their net further and aim to increase local capacity to respond resiliently to changing conditions. Soil conservation is incident to this process. Review of Techniques Promoted by Soil Conservation Projects Summary of Experience Conventional Techniques. Various soil conservation techniques have been promoted in Haiti with varying degrees of success. Early projects primarily prescribed mechanical, internationally standard techniques ("e.g." bench terraces, contour rock walls, contour canals, and rock checkdams). Generally efficient in terms of soil retention, these techniques are labor intensive, alien to the Haitian agricultural system, and have not been adopted unless wages were paid as incentive. In the case of bench terraces and contour canals, infertile subsoil is brought to the surface during construction resulting in crop production declines. Bench terraces have not been maintained except in the high-valued crop area south of Port-au-Prince. Contour rock walls have had a similar history, many kilometers have been constructed on infertile lands in food for work projects, and maintenance has been extremely limited. Checkdams have been maintained to a greater degree as evidenced in the existence of checkdams built by FAO/MARNDR projects in Aux Cayes and Limbe during the 1970s. Vegetative Techniques. Vegetative hill and ravine treatments began to be promoted by a majority of projects during the 1980s. These include "Leucaena" and elephant grass hedges, "ramp pay" (contour trash barriers covered with soil), and wattling ("kleonaj") in ravines. These techniques are sometimes used in combination. These require low labor inputs, and can result in short-term, net financial gain to the adopter. They have been promoted throughout Haiti without wage or food incentives and have been widely adopted. These techniques are generally less efficient than mechanical structures in terms of soil retention, but can be altered or combined to meet specific landowner site conditions and management objectives to a greater degree. Contour vegetative hedges of lemon grass and vetiver were also promoted during the 1970s. Like the mechanical techniques of the period, these techniques were also widely rejected. This rejection could be due to several factors: an adverse reaction to the manner in which they were promoted; or because they did not yield an adequate short-term economic return. Factors Affecting the Adoption of Soil Conservation Innovations Given the soil conservation innovation is deemed worthy and desirable by the farmer, several primary contextual conditions appear to impact farmer decision on whether or not to adopt a new soil conservation technique on a certain parcel of land (adapted from Pierre-Jean 1991): 1) level of land security felt by the farmer [note 1]; [Note 1. Land security should not be confused with land tenure. Various land tenure arrangements exist in Haiti, and the degree to which a farmer is assured control over the benefit of the soil conservation technique, not necessarily tenure, directly affects adoption.] 2) productive and economic value of the soil (impacted by distance to markets); 3) capacity of the farmer to invest time and labor for learning the technique and then for installing it, and; 4) natural willingness of farmer to take risks and adopt innovations.
Converted from gopher on 8/6/1999