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Plant-based economies driving ecological renewal

(a prototypical case-study in Haiti)



Using Haiti as a prototypical case-study, this project investigates the utilization of live fences as a catalyst for reforestation through the choreographed design of economically and environmentally beneficial linear forests. This supportive ‘fabric’ of forests is multi-functional: buffering neighboring crops from winds, improving moisture retention, stabilizing and enriching soils, and--critically--providing the raw resources for a diverse portfolio of local, plant-based income generation. Around 65% of the land in Haiti  is devoted to agricultural use (WGB), leaving the nation heavily deforested and susceptible to erosion (Williams). The vast majority of farms are delineated by live-fences in which this system can be implemented, respecting current land ownership and livelihoods. Presently these live fences consist of a mix of foreign species of limited ecologic and economic function.


This proposal suggests two innovations to improve existing reforestation programs for regions like Haiti’s degraded  landscapes. First, instead of relying on exotic and fruiting species, this project takes the next step of (1) employing communities of drought tolerant native species that support the native ecosystem, and (2) encourages further processing of harvested components into products. 

Nuts, branches, and managed timber patches can be processed into goods through existing and proposed training programs provided by local Haitian-run NGO’s.

This includes soap production, furniture fabrication, and general household items, encouraging the growth of skills and maximizing profit for farmers with less extensive land.

Second, the proposal has been formatted into a “farmers manual,” providing a visual narrative to the ecologic and economic benefits of implementation followed by visual instructions of how: simple analysis of land, choice of system, and palette of plant-groupings from which the farmer chooses. The plants are represented by easy-to-understand icons, showcasing each species ecologic and economic characteristics.This manual is intended for farmers as well as  NGO’s without background in forestry as many of them continue to cultivate non-native species. 

This project was influenced by the work of Jatrofa Projenou (Partners for People and Place), a Haitian/US based non-profit, founded by landscape architect Rob Fisher.


Rob FIsher explores the use of Jatropha curcas, both as a plant that can stabilize soil and provide income to communities, through harvest and processing of Jatropha* fruit. This project expanded upon Fisher’s work, to include additional native economically and ecologically beneficial plants.

* More on Jatropha at page end. 

SOURCES: Mishra et al, “Carbon sequestered through biomass and soil organic carbon dynamics in Jatropha Curcas”, Ecology, Environment and Conservation ,2014 

Williams, Kevin. “Tree of Life: The planting of Jatropia could help build the economy of a Hatian town”, Landscape Architecture Magazine, 2015

McClintock, Nathan. “Agroforestry and sustainable resource conservation in Haiti: Case Study”, ,2003

Henning, R. K. ‘Jatropha curcas L. in Africa. Case Study’. Weissenberg, Germany, Bagani, 2004.

Mogaka et al, ‘Understanding the underlying mechanisms of recent Jatropha curcas L. adoption by smallholders in Kenya: A rural livelihood assessment in Bondo, Kibwezi, and Kwale districts’, Energy for Sustainable Development, September 2014.

Langford, Kate, ‘What really happened with Jatropha in Kenya’, Agroforestry World,  2014

van der Horst, D, Vermeylen, S & Chibwe, T, 'Soap Security: African home economics in the aftermath of the Jatropha biofuel hype.' Solutions, vol 3, no. 6, 2013






Left map:

Hispaniola is home to over 300 species of birds of which 28 are endemic. The Haitian territory on its own is home to over 245 non-migratory birds of which 36 are only found in Haiti. A variety of migratory birds come from North America to winter in Haïti. The map points out the biodiverse hotspots as well as common hurricane patterns.


Right map:

Dark-shaded areas depict the 'hilliest' regions on this map, which consequentially - if void of vegetation - will deliver the most sediment downstream. Sediment builds the regions mangroves, but too much sediment caps surrounding reefs. Both reefs and mangroves are important coastal edge 'defenders', during extreme weather events, which intensities are forecasted to strengthen with climate change. This sediment contains nutrient-rich top soil, which is needed to grow crops and vegetation. It can take 500 years to create 1" of topsoil.

The rollover layer (below) shows population patterns, and points out important historical areas where visitors might be found: Some of the products created could be targeted towards (birding) tourists. 



In addition to implementing linear forests via live-fences, there are a few existing areas that might be suitable for intensification, such as barren areas and amongst some of the Dry Broadleaf Evergreen Acacia formations. The former Dauphine Sisal Plantation might also be an area which could benefit from cultivating a diverse and productive forest-system. 

Maps need sources.



This timeline provides insight to some of the historic events that took place in Haiti/Hispaniola that has led to the devastating deforestation: Historically, Europeans were seeking resources such as timber as they had depleted their own forests, and also seeking land to cultivate commodities such as sugar, coffee, cotton and Indigo. The deforestation in conjunction with intense agricultural activities left Hispaniola's soils vulnerable. Current pressure on Haitian forests stem from intensified domestic demands for charcoal (fuel).



The Farmers Manual provides a visual narrative to the ecologic and economic benefits of project implementation followed by visual instructions of how - simple analysis of land, choice of system, and palette of plant-groupings from which the farmer chooses. The plants are represented by easy-to-understand icons, showcasing each species ecologic and economic characteristics.

This manual is intended for farmers as well as  NGO’s without background in forestry as many of them continue to cultivate non-native species. 


Each plant or tree species is represented by its economical and ecological values, including categories such as raw materials, food, firewood and ecological benefits. Nursery saplings grown from seeds (to ensure strong root growth), are planted over three years based on size at maturity, starting with tallest species.


For each year, two group plantings are sown that focus on economic productivity: 1. The productive group provide a rapid economic return, firewood and nitrogen fixing species; 2. The additional soil enhancers + thematic species-group, support apiculture, small-scale timber production, or vegetable-oil production. All species contain a variety of important ecological functions including wind and drought resilience, are pollinator magnets, erosion controllers, pioneer species etc. 



Fiber from the productive Ceiba pentandra


Above: The iconographic system is introduced with a variety of plant palettes, based on high/low elevations. The icons are divided into two main categories: economic and ecological values, with subcategories, pinpointing each species’ ‘value’. 

Right: This manual is representational of the first and second phase and is meant to demonstrate the the farmer why such a system is beneficial and what species could be implemented. A three phase system is employed, starting with training in soil conservation followed by a 3-5 year planting scheme and a final phase of skills-building support, where the farmer can learn how to process his/her resources into a final project. 

Below: Visuals communicating benefits to farmers. Specific topics: Erosion control and income generation. 




Jatropha is a plant native to Latin America, and is often cultivated as live fences for its oil which can be used in biofuel production and soap. It has been successfully used in restoring soils on Haiti’s steep hills - 56% of the country slopes at 20% or more, so vegetative cover is seen as a necessity to prevent erosion.


Jatropha has been globally planted for it’s biofuel potentials: In the early 2000’s when the world was seeking alternative energy sources to petroleum, bioenergy emerged, holding great promise in reducing CO2 emissions through the metabolic processes of plants. The aim was to not displace agriculture or further impede forested areas, but to find marginalized lands - such as arid, deforested landscapes - and still produce yields with minimal inputs of nutrients and water. Jatropha fit the bill: It was fairly easy to propagate in dry, saline soils, and once matured (5-7 years) produced a fairly sufficient oil yield from its seeds. 

Unfortunately before thoroughly researching Jatropha’s feasibility or integrating it into existing economic contexts, Jatropha was hailed as a miracle plant, and in 2004/2005 private investors, consultancy firms and governments heavily pushed for it’s cultivation.

In Mozambique the country’s president traveled through villages, asking people to plant Jatropha as the homegrown fuel could significantly improve their lives by providing a source of income. In addition to Africa, Jatropha was also heavily pushed in India, China and areas in Central America, including Haiti. 

By 2008 the Jatropha bubble burst, partially do to the financial crisis, and in part that the plant couldn’t live up to it’s hype. The main problem was, that without enough nutrients and water, the plants were unable to produce significant amounts of fruits, and by the time farmers realized this, it was too late - not only had many farmers swapped out agricultural plots for Jatropha plantations contrary to initial intention, many were unknowingly practicing poor management habits which led to both disease, pests and low yields. Without access to training and information, compounded with the impending financial crisis, investors backed out and farmers were hit the hardest.


Today, many of the  small-hold farmers have switched form large Jatropha plantations, to smaller family run plantations alongside food crops, or use Jatropha as a live fence.

Often the dropped fruit is left on the ground, unused.





Name: Ceiba pentandra

Productive age begins: 4-5 years old

Life span: 60 years

Annual yield/nuts per tree: Up to 30 kg of seeds. Seed oil content is 20-25%. Also produces 15-18 kg of fiber. 

Annual yield of oil per tree: 1.5 kg oil.

Soap quantity per tree: 1.5kg x 2.7kg* = 4.09 kg (4050 g) = 40.5 soaps.

Total potential gross earnings per tree, per year: $40.5-$81.00


*1 liter oil = 2.7 kg soap





Name: Simarouba glauca

Productive age begins: 4-6 years old.

Life span: 60-70 years

Annual yield/nuts per tree: Up to 15 kg per year. Seed oil content is 50-65%. 

Annual yield of oil per tree: 3.75 kg on average.

Soap quantity per tree: 3.75kg x 2.7kg = 10.12kg = 101 soaps.

Total potential gross earnings per tree, per year: $101.00 - $202.00





Provides seed-oil

Timber source

Used as








Provides seed-oil

Timber source







Pioneer species

Can be coppiced






Provides seed-oil

Timber source

Used as






Name: Attalea crassispatha (numbers based off A. phalerata).

Productive age begins: 7-10 years old

Life span: 25-30 years

Annual yield/nuts per tree: Seed oil content is 66-69.5%.

Annual yield of oil per tree: 9.5 kg (2.72 kg kernal oil + 1.2 kg stalk mesocarp oil + 5.62 fruit pulp oil).

Soap quantity per tree: 9.5kg x 2.7kg = 25.65kg = 256.5 soaps

Total potential gross earnings per tree, per year: $256.5 - $513.00

Sources (all three species): 

*¹ Anwar, F., Rashid, U., Shaukat A.S., Nadeem, M. 2014. “Physicochemical and Antioxidant Characteristics of Kapok (Ceiba pentandra Gaertn.) Seed Oil.” Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, Vol 91, Issue 6: 1047-1054

*² Manasi and Gaikwad. 2011. “A Critical Review on Medicinally Important Oil Yielding Plant Laxmitaru (Simarouba glauca DC).” Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, Vol 3 (4): 1195-1213

*³ Ghen G. 2005. “Attalea phalerata and Biodiesel: Implications for Local and Regional Sustainability”. Honolulu: University of Hawaii.


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