Los Cerezos by the Numbers

The interior of a country store in Los Cerezos.

Photo: Commerce in the campo! The interior of a country store in Los Cerezos.

The Tree Bank’s first “Information Harvest” has finally come in! Last March, for the first time, we surveyed all of the farmers in the Tree Bank Hispaniola program, to gather uniform data on their households and farms. We have now organized their responses, and I attempt an interpretive summary below.

The Tree Bank Hispaniola works along part of the Dominican Republic / Haiti border, on the Dominican side, to conserve native forest and improve the incomes of the region’s small-holder farmers. For a description of the program, visit the Tree Bank page.

Why We Did This Survey

The Tree Bank was founded in 2006. As the program has grown, so has our interest in measuring its results. We also want to deepen our understanding of the context in which we’re working. More information will help us improve the program, and make sure that we’re not missing important but hidden opportunities.

Periodic surveys should be an effective way to collect much of the information that we need. We hope to conduct one or two surveys a year. Each survey will ask farmers about different topics, or about the same topics from different perspectives, and each will try to extend what we have learned from previous surveys.

In addition to furnishing information, we want the surveys to serve a social purpose. We want to recruit farmers into gathering project data — not all of it, but a substantial share. In the process, we hope, the farmers will begin to create a new role for themselves, as “informal experts” on their farms and forests.

The full results of this first survey are available as a set of spreadsheets in the “Learn More” section of the Tree Bank page. (We have omitted only personal names.) A blank pdf of the survey form is also posted there.

Our Technique

Answers were obtained through interviews conducted by one of our colleagues, Marina Guzman Berihuete. Marina comes from Haiti but she is a resident of Los Cerezos; she is also one of the Tree Bank’s member farmers. Marina’s role was essential because some of our respondents are illiterate and would not have been able to complete the forms on their own. And Marina is a very efficient and thorough note-taker, so I’m confident that we got a much better result through her interviews than we otherwise would have managed. The respondents were paid 1,000 Dominican pesos for their participation. (That’s about $23 by the usual reckoning; I discuss exchange rates below.) As with most surveys, not everyone answered every question.

Forty-six people responded to our survey; each respondent did so on behalf of his or her entire family. At the time, those 46 families accounted for the entire membership of our partner association, the Asociación de Productores de Bosque, Los Cerezos. Los Cerezos is the jurisdiction where the Tree Bank is based. It’s a little section of the Dominican province of Dajabón.

What We Asked, and What They Said

The survey was three pages long. It asked questions about the families; for example, we asked about education, income, health, and diet. It also asked about the farms; we wanted to know about the size of the farms, about farm labor, and about livestock and crops. We did not ask specifically about Tree Bank programs, although all of this information is relevant to the Tree Bank in one way or another.

We began with some basic questions about family composition and location. Here is what we learned.

Our 46 respondents varied in age from 26 to 81; their average age was 54.5. Thirty-five (76%) are married or living with a partner, and 41 (89%) live in Los Cerezos. Among those who do not, four live 10 miles away in Loma de Cabrera, the nearest large town. (That’s 10 miles by road, not by straight line.) The other respondent lives 23 miles away, in the city of Dajabón. (The population of Dajabón was given as 28,071 in the 2010 Dominican census; that of Loma was 15,624.) Some farmers tell me that Loma is gaining population at the expense of the countryside.

All but two (96%) of our respondents had children, who ranged in age from three months to 57 years. (Forgive the peculiar use of the term “children” to refer to middle-aged people! By “child” I mean a first-generation descendant.) The average number of children in a family was 4.5 and the total number of children was 207. Of the 148 adult children (children at least 20 years old), 112 (76%) had moved away from Los Cerezos; nearly all of these people live in cities or towns, not elsewhere in the countryside. Another 44 relatives — mostly grandchildren, adoptees, and elderly relatives — were living in these households. All told, the families included 332 people. Average family size was 7.2 people. Average on-farm family size was 4.4 people. On-farm family size is a useful number because it excludes adult children who have moved away and are living independent lives.

Among the adult children, 53 (36%) had only a primary school education; 49 (33%) had at least some education at the secondary-school level, and 43 (29%) had at least some university education. (We’re missing school information for three adult children.) Public education in the DR is free through secondary school. At the university level, public education is available through the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, the DR’s sole public university; there are branches in cities throughout the country. Tuition is free but students must buy their own course materials and pay for their own transportation. (Of course, there are also private schools and universities for students who can afford the tuition.) I don’t know what instruction is like at the public university, but, to be blunt, what I have seen of the primary and secondary levels does not compare favorably with American schools — even weak ones.

The employment picture was discouraging. Among the adult children, 67 (45%) were unemployed. Among those who were working, the most common kinds of employment were: working on the family farm (20 respondents or 14%), various jobs in the DR’s “zonas francas” (free trade zones; 15 or 10%), school-related employment (11 or 7%), driving a taxi or some other type of vehicle (8 or 5%), and military service (6 or 4%). Very few of these jobs would be full-time by US standards.

We asked about health problems. By far the most commonly cited was hypertension; 21 respondents (46%) said that someone in their family suffered from high blood pressure. Next came hernias and spine trouble (each reported by 6 respondents, or 13%), osteoporosis (5 or 11%), and then a miscellany of ills to which the human organism is subject, ranging in severity from bad hearing to HIV/AIDS and cancer (one respondent each). Three respondents (7%) reported mental health problems in their families.