US-funded trees ‘probably won’t survive’ in Haiti when project ends

A report commissioned by USAID shows that the environmental and social benefits of a $39 million five-year program are unlikely to continue beyond this month

Trees planted in Haiti under a $39 million USAID program are “not likely to survive or be cared for” after the five-year project ends this month, according to a report commissioned by USAID.

The program aimed to reduce deforestation by paying Haitians to plant trees and by teaching them skills such as beekeeping to diversify their income so that they are less pressured to cut down trees to make charcoal. , which is used for cooking.

Haiti has lost 9% of its tree cover over the past 20 years due to trees destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and cut down to be turned into charcoal or to make room for agriculture.

This deforestation is not only exacerbating climate change, but also making Haitians more vulnerable to the floods and landslides that global warming has often caused. Trees absorb rainwater and hold the soil together.

To counter this, USAID launched a reforestation program in 2017 with the goal of planting four million trees. The US aid agency has outsourced the project to a company called Chemonics, which is headquartered near the White House and known in the development industry as a “Bingo” or major international non-governmental organization.

Chemonics talks positively about the project on its website. It says it will “take a holistic, community-based approach” and “cultivate educated and empowered local communities and authorities”.

But a May 2021 report written by consultants from Social Impact Inc found a host of issues, including that the project’s environmental and social benefits are unlikely to continue if funding runs out.

The report found that trees planted on private land that contribute to people’s income, such as fruit trees, are “likely to be protected.” But “trees planted on public land where animals roam freely are unlikely to survive.”

Jean Weiner, a Haitian environmentalist who planted trees for the USAID-funded program, told Climate Home News that wild, feral or grazing cows and goats “walk around and sort of mow the land.”

Weiner said Haiti has laws requiring state animals to be fenced, but they are not enforced. Instead, farmers let their animals roam free to graze, which is easier than fencing them and bringing them food. Theft is discouraged by violent reprisals from vigilantes, he said. The USAID program was designed to enable farmers to produce hay for their livestock to prevent them from wandering.

But the audit report found that “most resilience activities are unlikely to be sustainable given the short project timeline, the lack of resources among farmers and the many project delays”. “The pursuit of new and unproven techniques is much to be expected from people who are already food insecure and unable to take the risk of a potentially lost crop, even though there is the possibility of a higher income using new techniques,” it added. up.

Weiner said international donors should make “longer-term commitments” beyond five years so that organizations can “build their capabilities and increase their long-term results.” But, he said, “I know there are political cycles and that’s a big barrier.”

The project created different management plans for different areas with committees made up of members of the local community to oversee them. The report noted that these plans “may have some minor benefits for the communities”, but “the committees are unlikely to continue to function without support”.

Without an entity to fund the committees’ activities, organize meetings and pay for travel and per diem allowances, “the committee members themselves stated that they could not continue to do anything after the project is finished,” the report added.

When asked if the trees will survive, a USAID official who wishes to remain anonymous told Climate Home: “That’s our hope. We realize that these kinds of programs where we want to build sustainability into institutions take a lot of time and we have to be realistic about the capacity of the Haitian government.”

A “lesson learned” is to involve local government, NGOs and the private sector early on in the design of the program, they said.

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An important point was that USAID paid local tree planting groups only when they reached a certain milestone. The report said this “may not be a viable approach in a poor place like these targeted regions of Haiti”.

Despite it becoming more common, Weiner said the practice “could be a serious problem” for organizations that don’t have a lot of resources to invest upfront.

The USAID official agreed that paying on partial delivery “is not appropriate in all cases.” “Maybe in a project like this where we give grants to very small local organizations, it might not be the best approach,” they said.

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Other shortcomings identified in the report include the perception that it was “too long and difficult” for Haitian NGOs to obtain grants, equipment was delivered late or not at all, private companies did not participate in the scheme, and not enough trees had been planted .

Weiner’s organization, the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity (FoProBim), has worked on similar projects before, but USAID, he explained, “has very strict and very strong grant approval procedures.” The Haitian beneficiaries, on the other hand, lacked the structures to provide the necessary information needed in the accounting processes.

Delays in material delivery were so common that it suggested there was a “systemic problem with project procurement procedures,” the report said.

The USAID official accepted that this was “a problem” and told Climate Home that the report had been useful for “price corrections”.

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The official added that Haiti had experienced a series of difficult situations during the project, including Covid-19, currency fluctuations, uncertainty, fuel shortages and the assassination of the president. All of this “affected the program,” they said. “It was complicated”.

Currency fluctuations disrupted a deal with an ackee fruit exporter who would pay farmers to grow the crop. A cruise line, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, would pay farmers for ecotourism until the pandemic hit their revenues.

The USAID official said reforestation would remain a priority of the agency’s work in Haiti and the project had achieved “a number of successes”, including planting 4.5 million trees – 500,000 more than the target.

Building civil society capacity would become a priority, they said, and USAID will target “smaller than larger,” both in terms of the amount of money the agency spends per grant and the geographic area covered. it covers.

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