PhD student Gabriela Vaz Rodrigues conducted an exploratory research trip to Haiti in August 2013 to refine her proposed research on drivers of land degradation in the Caribbean country. Her advisor is Professor Klaus Hubacek.
For two weeks, Gabriela met with several experts in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, and in the field, including agronomists, environmental specialists and project coordinators from NGOs, international organizations and government entities such as the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Land Use Planning (CIAT), Haiti’s National Agency for Geo-Spatial Information (CNIGS), the National Institute for Agrarian Reform(INARA), and the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (MARNDR). Thanks to the generous logistical support provided by the NGOs - Bethsaide, CPH (Comite Protos Haiti), as well as the Inter-American Development Bank and MARNDR, Gabriela travelled all over the country to speak with farmers in seven different communes (municipalities).
Through her conversations with farmers, Haitian and international experts, and by observing and questioning the variation of landscapes and livelihoods throughout her visit, Gabriela sought to deepen her on-the ground understanding of the geography and history of land degradation in Haiti, and of potential underlying factors that lead to deforestation. Indeed, by spurring a series of environmental impacts, including change of micro-climates, tree clearing threatens the livelihoods of 5 million people, or half of Haiti’s population who strongly depend on the land. It also affects the daily lives of Haiti’s urban population by increasing dependency on food imports.
Gabriela's visit shed a finer light on this longstanding problem, collecting views from multiple stakeholders, and establishing partnerships for her dissertation. Contrary to how Haiti tends to be portrayed internationally - as a territory uniformly degraded by humans - tree cover and tree clearing appear to vary significantly in space and time. This is not only due to human factors, but also environmental factors as well.
Parallel to her PhD, Gabriela has been providing technical support to the preparation, implementation and evaluation of several government-led development projects in Haiti, especially in the areas of land tenure and weather risk management in the rural sector. She hopes that her research will help create fruitful synergies, contribute to understanding and education, and address the causes of one Haiti’s most out-cried developmental challenges. Gabriela is extremely thankful for the availability and support of all who made this productive trip possible.