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It's a simple enough notion-to build a strong community, you need a healthy environment. With the help of AUNE's practicum program and a Haitian non-profit called Groupe d'Appui à l'Encadrement et au Développement de Familles Paysannes (GRADEFP), Kenold Moreau spent part of summer 2007 working to detail the health of a landscape and, by extension, the health of a community.

GRADEFP is an non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Petit-Goave, Haiti, that seeks to improve the lives of local residents by promoting the sustainable use of local natural resources. As part of this strategy, the organization is developing a community development plan for the community of Fond-Arabie, which in turn requires an inventory of local resources, a task that Moreau took up as a Master's practicum.

Born in Haiti in Petit-Goave, Moreau appreciates the tenuous state of Haiti's environment and the hardships many agriculturally based communities face. With mountains and steep slopes covering sixty percent of a country battered by frequent tropical storms, the soils on Haiti available for agriculture are sparse and exhausted.

Haiti

The island of Haiti

Given just thirty days to survey an area that covered about fifty square kilometers and to organize and lead a series of workshops with community residents, Moreau found himself with too few resources, too little time, and too much to do. Though community workshops took time away from observations in the field, he understands GRADEFP's interest in gaining the participation of farmers in the survey. "The farmers know about their environment," he says, "because they have been using their lands and their trees for a long time. They know where problems start and what their extent is and, probably, what the consequences might be." Organizing and running each workshop took two to three days, but each needed to be followed up with some ground-truthing. "The more I could go to the field for sight observations," he notes, "the more information I could get to sustain my conclusions."

He discovered that in Fond-Arabie environmental degradation followed in the path of Hurricane Flora, a category 4 hurricane that left 5,000 dead on the island in October 1954. The storm uprooted trees and stripped soil from the landscape, leaving scars that farming practices and deforestation in the years that followed only made worse.

The people of the region, Moreau says, depend on the land for their survival. Agriculture provides more than just food, he notes. It provides the income that allows residents "to provide health care, to send their children to school. For everything, they depend on agriculture."

In his final report to GRADEFP, Moreau notes that the major environmental problems facing Fond-Arabie are the direct consequences of local people's activities, and include the depletion of forest and vegetation cover for charcoal production and expanded farmlands. Soil erosion, degradation of water quality, and the gradual disappearance of some local wildlife have followed.

Though sobering, his work provides the foundation for generating and implementing a community development plan that can reverse more than half a century of environmental decline. Fond-Arabie's past has no doubt been troubled, but with Moreau's help its future may begin to brighten.