In anticipation of World Environment Day today, June 5, 2012, Haiti’s Minister of Environment, Joseph Ronald Toussaint, and the Martelly government proclaimed June Environment Month in Haiti. The theme for this year’s month-long celebration is, “A Green Economy for an Environmentally Viable, Sustainable, and Just Haitian Society.” As part of Environment Month, a member of the ministry’s cabinet indicated that the ministry would like to hold a general State of the Environment Conference with stakeholders on June 7-8, 2012.
As bereft as Haiti is of vegetation cover, the island-nation needs a long-term strategic plan for the environment. Today, only 1.5 percent of the island is forested, compared with 21 percent in neighboring Dominican Republic. A result of widespread conversion of trees into cooking-fuel, deforestation has led to severe soil erosion throughout the country along with life threatening floods during medium-to-severe rains. The situation only worsens during the hurricane season (June to November) when neighborhoods throughout the country are at risk of flooding. The government’s use of the term “green economy” is perplexing considering peasant movements in Haiti are struggling against the green-washing of capitalism. To be fair, the Haitian minister and government have not defined what they mean by “green economy.” But if the administration couples its “Haiti is Open for Business” policy with “green economy,” that could easily lead to an official endorsement of burgeoning agrofuel-inspired landgrabs in Haiti in which fertile, food-producing land is being sold to foreign corporations for production of monocrops such as Jetropha for export as “renewable energy” in industrialized nations. Our partners in Haiti, the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) and the Haitian Platform for Alternative Development (PAPDA) have advocated strongly against the green economy, which they see as a false solution that will only expand the reach of capitalism. Their concerns are based on numerous examples of resource exploitation and land grabs around the world that benefit transnational corporations but do little to boost the livelihoods of local people. Instead, MPP and PAPDA are pressing the government to invest in small farmers, who are traditional stewards of the environment. If the Martelly Administration is serious about improving Haiti’s environment, it need look no further than Hinche. There, for over 30 years, the MPP has been planting trees, teaching sustainable agricultural practices, and moving its members toward agroecology—a whole-systems approach to agriculture and food systems development based on traditional knowledge, sustainable agriculture, and local food system experiences. PAPDA has also consistently offered practical, alternative farmer-friendly development policies for years. These two organizations are but a sample of the progressive thinking on the environment that has been a staple of peasant movements in Haiti. Haiti’s environment remains a priority for small farmers and those who work with them in Haiti. If the conference happens, the conveners would be wise to send warm invitations to all Haitian peasant movements who have been struggling to save Haiti’s soil, trees, land, and agriculture for decades. These are the people who know how to save Haiti’s environment, but they’ve been waiting for decades for a willing partner in Haiti’s government.