In Haiti, Exploring What Drives People to Alter the Landscape

2001 mapon the left  and 2010 map on the right show change in landcover classification on the border between Haiti and Dominican Republic
A typical aerial image of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic shows the eastern side lush green with vegetation and forests, whereas the western side—Haiti— is brown, barren, and devoid of trees.

This stark contrast between the two countries is well-known, but doesn’t elucidate the socioeconomic pressures on the environment and the people who live there, or suggest solutions such as alternative land uses and livelihoods. To better understand the issues and potential solutions, a team of researchers from CIESIN and the Faculty of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine of the Université d’Etat d’Haïti undertook a field study as part of a project to reforest the border regions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, funded by the Norwegian Government.

The Pedernales Watershed, located along Haiti’s southern national boundary with the Dominican Republic, provides a good case study. The map above shows one of the two watersheds studied. Land cover patterns in the watershed reveal a striking loss of forest cover and changeover to agricultural land use between 2001 and 2010.

Using 30-meter resolution satellite imagery from Landsat 5, captured between the dry months of December and February, the team categorized the Pedernales land cover into four main classes: forest, agriculture, pasture and water[1]. The areas in green correspond to the forest cover class, whereas the areas in red were classified as agriculture-related. The map shows that inhabitants of the Pedernales mid-elevation to coastal area have intensified the use of land for agricultural purposes and commerce, most likely driven by food insecurity and poverty.  Similarly, the forest cover on both the Haitian and the Dominican Republic sides of the watershed has been significantly reduced between 2001 and 2010. This is consistent with the fact that extensive charcoal production and agriculture-based activities are among the main livelihood streams for families within the area. The communities located at the highest elevations still experienced some forest loss, but with coffee production as one of their main activities, forest cover has remained relatively intact.

The final report on the study, which was based on data collected from interviews and a household survey conducted using mobile phones, can be found at the CIESIN Haiti GeoPortal, with other reports and publications from the Earth Institute’s research in Haiti. The Frontera Verde project was a large reforestation program involving local community groups and continued investment from both governments and the United Nations.  _______________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Given intercropping and fewer irrigation-type agriculture systems, pasture class could include a mix of agriculture and agro-forestry classes as well.

The Map of the Month blog series is produced by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). The map was created by researcher Alexandra Morel, who led the Frontera Verde study during her two-year appointment as an Earth institute Fellow at CIESIN. Staff associate Paola Kim-Blanco and geographic information specialist Tricia Chai-Onn modified the map for the blog. Commentary is by Alexandra Morel, program manager Alex Fischer, and Paola Kim-Blanco.


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