Leaf 1: Into the Midst of Things

A leaf from:

This Broken Land of Promise:

A Chronicle of Conservation in the Hispaniolan Border Country

It has been more than a decade since Matt, Lisa, and I took our first trip to the Dominican Republic, to visit the rumpled northern flank of Hispaniola’s Cordillera Central mountain range, just a few miles from the border with Haiti. Lisa is my wife; she and I founded the Sangha in 1997. Matt is our son and colleague. He was still in high school at the time of that trip; today he is the Sangha’s Conservation Manager. Our destination was the little municipality of Los Cerezos, up amidst the mountain ridges, deep in the countryside. There we met with our Peace Corps colleague Tommy Ventre, our Dominican colleague Gaspar Pérez Aquino, and a group of local farmers. And together, we founded our Tree Bank Hispaniola program.

Since then, Tree Bank farmers have planted tens of thousands of trees and established dozens of forest-conservation easements on their own lands. On a landscape scale, those plantings and easements still don’t amount to much: maybe 250 acres in all, scattered over a project area amounting to at least 25 square miles. By this measure, it would seem that, so far, our work has benefitted only 1.6 percent of the land.

But that figure is not the best way to measure the program’s significance. Creating the Tree Bank has been slow, difficult, and repetitive work. We accumulate obligations — to our donors, to our farm families, and in my view, to the land itself — and then we struggle to live up to those obligations. Then we do it all over again. And gradually, despite our clumsiness and occasional reversals, we appear to be meeting the most important obligation of all: we have begun to reinvent the local brand of small-holder agriculture, to make it more profitable and to make it a means of creating forest instead of destroying it.

Today, the Tree Bank is a conservation resource unique in its project area — unique not in just one respect but in at least five: we operate the region’s only community-based farm credit program, its only local-ecotype native-tree propagation program, its only community-owned nature reserve, its only shade-coffee and shade-cocoa export program, and its only forest restoration program that is both non-governmental and long-term.

But even as the program has grown in size and complexity, it remains largely hidden from the Sangha’s supporters and friends. That’s not because we, the program principals, want to conceal our work. On the contrary, Matt and I, as well as our two principal Dominican colleagues, Manolo and Cosme — we want you to know what we’re up to. And of course, Matt and I do write occasional newsletter articles on the Tree Bank, but our coverage is nowhere near what it should be. This situation is ridiculous and somewhat precarious. We need the Sangha’s supporters to understand the Tree Bank, and to care about it, in order to stabilize the program over the long term. And to make that happen, we’ll need to do a better job of telling you about it.

Hence this series of notes. My plan is to plunge into the midst of things, by reporting on Tree Bank activities more or less as they occur. During weeks when there’s little news to report — and there are a lot of those — I’ll offer more context, and more on the program’s history. I’ll introduce you to the people of our project area, and I hope to show you the tangle of ecology, politics, and relentless need that drives our work. I hope also that you will help me with my coverage: I welcome your comments and questions, as well as suggestions for topics that you would like me to address. You’ll find my contact information below. Thanks for reading the first leaf of my chronicle!

“This Broken Land of Promise” is my attempt to describe and interpret our Tree Bank Hispaniola program. I welcome your comments and questions. Please write me in the comment box below or email me at cbright@earthsangha.org.

— Chris Bright

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