Melissa Sannon Talks Trees and Health

Dear Friends

It’s been three years since I embarked in this tree planting journey with the Haiti Timber Reintroduction Project, a project of Haiti Friends and Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Artibonite, Haiti. To mark my three year work anniversary with the program, today I want to write about one of the questions that I have often received when I tell people that I manage a reforestation program that is part of a hospital system. Why does a hospital have a reforestation program? I completely understand why some people struggle to piece it together because the link between trees, health, nutrition, and food security from the perspective of improving/saving lives and ensuring sustainable development in rural communities is extremely broad and narrow at the same time. It’s confusing, right

Collecting firewood to bring home is not easy job

Collecting firewood to bring home is not easy job

Well, I usually start with the general information about trees like how they help clean the air, make communities look attractive, provide shade, improve water quality, and prevent erosion. Next, I talk about another set of benefits that represents a major source of income for many remote communities. These benefits include fruits, food, firewood/charcoal, and timber that can be sold on local markets to facilitate the flowing of cash in the household. Then, I mention the prevalence of malnutrition in childhood in the Artibonite and how it relates to the decrease in agricultural production due to erosion because most of the mountains lack in tree cover. Providing health care isn’t sufficient enough to address malnutrition in communities with severe ecological damage. It is important to encourage people to plant trees, grow crops, and raise animals at the same time and on the same land. This practice is generally called agroforestry, and this falls into HTRIP’s mission to teach people about the art of farming with trees, so that they can restore degraded soil and produce nutritious crops.

Moreover, deforestation not only affects soil as it facilitates the erosion of topsoil and decreases agricultural production, it also limits people’s access to wood energy. For example, the key element to prepare food is energy, and the only energy source for cooking in rural Haitian communities is wood, so communities that suffer from extreme deforestation struggle to find enough wood for cooking. For example, rural Haitian women are usually the ones responsible to cook all the household food, and it takes them hours to go collect wood to cook one meal a day; extra time that could have been used for doing other lucrative activities. This also brings us to how deforestation prevents women from reaching out for other opportunities that don’t include household care.

HTRIP technicians, leaders, and I collecting data for the yam and passion fruit research project

HTRIP technicians, leaders, and I collecting data for the yam and passion fruit research project

Trees sustain life on earth and saving lives also means saving trees, so it is very disappointing to see that many adults still don’t quite understand why the health sector has to be bonded with the environmental sector especially when operating in vulnerable communities. I feel like it is somewhat the same thing for climate change, the good thing is that more people are talking about it now.

Melissa Sanon