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The Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) has turned two of Haiti’s greatest problems into a self-financing solution. The problems—less than two percent tree cover, and farming techniques that have not improved much in the last hundred years—have proved almost impossible to overcome when approached separately. But combining reforestation with improving agricultural practices has led to a significant breakthrough.

Our Approach 

The SFA model involves taking groups of around 2,000 small-scale farmers at a time and transforming them into for-profit agroforestry cooperatives. The farmers plant trees in return for the agricultural training, tools and better seed that results in increased food crop yields. After three years of investment, the cooperatives continue as farmer-managed and self-financed operations. 

Agroforestry traditionally combines tree planting with food crops, but in this case ‘tree planting’ is expanded to include the farmers growing one million trees a year, while ‘food crops’ is expanded into a full agricultural service that has resulted in yield increases up to 40 and 50 percent, depending on the crop.

The trees are grown in nurseries and transplanted by the farmers onto their own and community-owned land. The agricultural service provides high yield seed, training in crop management, in-field technical support and the good quality tools needed to produce higher yields of sorghum, beans, corn and other food items.

The Challenge

The biggest challenge was creating a financial incentive for farmers to reforest in a country dependent on trees to make the charcoal used for cooking and fuel. The answer was to enlist farmers to grow, plant and protect trees in exchange for the inputs needed to increase their crop yields. Planting trees quickly came to equal more money in the farmers’ pockets because they were getting higher yields for their food crops. Shortly after that, they begin to get additional income as the trees they planted and protected began to yield fruit, timber, fodder and fuel, the latter from trees designed to grow back from the root when the tree is harvested.

Exit Strategy Aid

We call our methodology “exit strategy aid” because it is designed, from the outset, to be self-financing following an initial period of investment. Traditional development models are failing because projects often last only as long as the external funding. The innovation being pioneered by SFA, which sets a time limit on external funding, has implications for the rest of the developing world.

The Pilot Operation

SFA’s pilot program was started near the city of Gonaïves in February, 2010. Over the course of three years, we have transformed the first 1,000 farm households—or 2,000 individual small-scale farmers (husband and wife usually farm together)—into a for-profit agroforestry cooperative called “Alyans Ti Plantè-Gonaïves” in Creole. The participating farmers still sell their crops individually, but the cooperative provides a seed bank, microfinance service, tools, shared tractors and ongoing agricultural training—all paid for from the sale of excess trees from the farmer-run tree nurseries. Other cooperative income streams will come on line over the course of this year.

All food crop seeds used are non-hybrid, open-pollinated varieties, and the tree nurseries and farms are managed naturally and without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

The Future

The organization plans to develop more agroforestry cooperatives as the nation’s farmers begin to take the lead in both restoring tree cover and expanding sustainable food production.