Nothing better symbolized the vicious cycle of poverty in Haiti than the process of deforestation. Haiti was once a lush tropical island, replete with pines and broad leaf trees; however, by 1988 only about 2 percent of the country had tree cover.
The most direct effect of deforestation was soil erosion. In turn, soil erosion lowered the productivity of the land, worsened droughts, and eventually led to desertification, all of which increased the pressure on the remaining land and trees. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that this cycle destroyed 6,000 hectares of arable land a year in the 1980s. Analysts calculated that, at the rate of deforestation prevailing in the late 1980s, the country's tree cover would be completely depleted by 2008.
Deforestation accelerated after Hurricane Hazel downed trees throughout the island in 1954. Beginning in about 1954, concessionaires stepped up their logging operations, in response to Port-au-Prince's intensified demand for charcoal, thus accelerating deforestation, which had already become a problem because of environmentally unsound agricultural practices, rapid population growth, and increased competition over scarce land.
Most of Haiti's governments paid only lip service to the imperative of reforestation. As was the case in other areas of Haitian life, the main impetus to act came from abroad. AID's Agroforestry Outreach Program, Projč Pyebwa, was the country's major reforestation program in the 1980s. Peasants planted more than 25 million trees under Projč Pyebwa, but as many as seven trees were cut for each new tree planted. Later efforts to save Haiti's trees--and thus its ecosystem--focused on intensifying reforestation programs, reducing waste in charcoal production, introducing more wood-efficient stoves, and importing wood under AID's Food for Peace program.
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