Tree Bank / Hispaniola: The Work
The Tree Bank was founded in 2006. It works along a section of the Dominican Republic – Haiti border to improve the incomes of the region’s impoverished small-holder farmers and to restore native forests on portions of their lands.
Thus far, the Tree Bank is working only on the Dominican side of the border. That’s because the Dominican side still contains ecologically valuable native-forest fragments and the Haitian side does not. We hope eventually to extend our work into Haiti but there are many logistical issues that we would have to resolve before we can do that.
The Tree Bank works exclusively through our Dominican partner organization, the Asociación de Productores de Bosque, Los Cerezos. We incorporated the Association in 2010, to give us legal standing in the country. We are currently working on about 20 farms.
As of March 2012, there are five major components in our program:
1. Nuestro Vivero
Our Tree Bank Community Nursery is located in the settlement of Los Cerezos, in the Dominican Republic’s Dajabón Province, a couple of miles from the border with Haiti. Our nursery was established in 2006 and is currently growing 11 species of native trees from locally-collected wild seed (local-ecotype seed). The use of local-ecotype seed is a standard best practice in ecological restoration because that helps to maintain genetic diversity and local adaptation in the species planted. Most of these native tree species are in decline; several have been red-listed as threatened or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The nursery also grows a range of important tree-crop species, including citrus, coffee, and cacao (the little tree from which chocolate is produced).
The nursery produces 20,000–25,000 trees per year. The trees are free to our member farmers, who use them both for orchard development and for the native forest plantings described below. Ours is the only community-based nursery in the region that is producing stock for restoration on local farms.
2. Parcelas Sembradas
In 2007, we started paying a modest annual stipend to support native forest plantings on local farms. We currently have 10 such plantings, covering about 13 acres. We are not admitting any more farms to this program because our credit program has proved to be a much more efficient way to restore and conserve forest. (See the next item.)
3. Crédito Forestal
In 2011 we began offering very low-cost small-scale lines of credit to our farmers, in exchange for forest conservation easements on portions of their lands. To date, we have lent about $5,800 to 16 farms with easements covering just under 51 acres. Nearly all of our easements cover established forest fragments, many of which are high-quality habitat. But farmers can also place easements over degraded land, which they are then obligated to restore to native forest, with trees from our nursery. Crédito Forestal is the first low-cost microcredit program in the region, and the region’s first conservation easement program.
Also last year, we began importing our farmers’ coffee and selling it under its own brand, “Rising Forests.” We pay our farmers a premium for their best beans—10% above the market price. Rising Forests is “de facto organic”—that is, it’s grown without pesticide or fertilizer but it’s not formally certified as organic. (Certification is expensive and we can’t afford it.) Rising Forests is also entirely shade-grown, and not just under “generic shade,” but well-structured, native forest canopy. Because of that, Rising Forests is creating a powerful incentive for forest conservation and restoration. Our first coffee shipment was small—only 167 kilos—but we are now organizing a larger shipment. This year, Rising Forests will support between 15 and 23 acres of native shade coffee—and our coffee area is likely to expand substantially over the next couple of years.
5. Una Parcela Agro-Ecológica
Some of our farmers are so poor, and working soils that are so degraded, that they cannot profit from our forest credit or coffee programs, which obviously require some basic agricultural function. Helping the very poor is important not just for social reasons, but also for ecological ones: you might not expect it, but in our project region, very poor people sometimes own very valuable forest. (Surviving forest on the poorest farms is usually on steep riparian slopes that are extremely difficult to exploit.)
We are trying to develop a crop system for such farms—something that will improve production in the more accessible areas and prevent any desperate acts of bean planting down-slope. Our basic idea is to create a terraced, high-diversity, and intensively-managed “crop garden” combined with a single cow, to provide a little milk and a regular source of composted manure. This year we will install our first such parcela on the property of one of our poorest farmers. This little parcela will cover about an acre and should guarantee food for the family, a little cash cropping, and free up other hard-scrabble areas on the farm for forest restoration. (We are particularly interested in buffering a very valuable quasi-“old growth” fragment on this farm.) If the model works, we will apply it to other farms.
Over the course of this year, we expect to expand most of our project components, and we hope to add one more. Very briefly, our plans for 2012 are as follows.
Vivero: we hope to strengthen our coordination with the elementary school that adjoins the nursery property. The students already do a lot of volunteer labor; we want the nursery included in the school curriculum but are not yet sure how to do this. We will likely make some structural improvements to the nursery—uninteresting but useful things like improving the access road and replacing some shade-cloth support posts.
Crédito Forestal: we want to extend credit to about another five farms, to bring the total number of farms to about 20. We are aiming for a total of $10,000 in loans and at least 60 acres in easements, up from the current totals of about $5,800 and 51 acres.
Café: last year we imported 167 kilos of coffee from our members’ farms. We hope to import a substantially larger quantity this year. Our coffee program is growing rapidly, so in addition to expanding our imports, we need to create some infrastructure for it. We are considering the possibility of building a small community processing center to help improve the quality of our beans. If we do build it, we will probably do that at the nursery. More urgent is the need for a “coffee warehouse”—a cement-block shed where our people can deposit their coffee with confidence that it will be treated well, and held safely. The warehouse will also allow us to control and manage our inventory much more effectively than we currently can, since the coffee is currently being stored all over the countryside. We already have a site for the warehouse and we are trying to raise the money to build it. It is likely that we will have to spend about $7,500 on the warehouse.
Parcela Agro-Ecológica: we will develop our first such parcela, as described above.
Agua: we are studying the possibility of creating a secure water supply for the local elementary school and eventually, the community as a whole. The school draws its water from the same pipe that supplies our nursery, so we are already aware of the supply problems. An additional problem is that the water is infested with parasites—something not relevant to the nursery but that is a problem for the school. (The doctors at the local clinic tell us that water-borne parasites are among the most common health problems in our community, especially for children.) The school does have some safe filtered water, but only enough for the youngest students. Our water security plan would likely include: forest buffer assessments (and if necessary, buffer enrichments) of the two stream sites that supply the water; the installation of a larger cistern at the school; filtration of the water entering the cistern; and eventually some sort of independent filter system that could be distributed to the homes in the area, so that people could have safe drinking water at home as well. The system would serve our mission by building our relationship with the school, and by obligating the community to manage the spring buffers.
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Where to Find More Information
To see what the nursery and the plantings look like, view the Work slide show in the Links panel of the Tree Bank / Hispaniola page. For an overview of benefits that the Tree Bank offers participating farmers, look at our Table of Benefits. For more information on our Forest Credit program, look over our Solicitud de Préstamo form. For recent activities, check the Tree Bank / Hispaniola News.