In selecting possible sites, HTRIP technicians visit the candidate communities, evaluating patterns of erosion, deforestation, and ecological challenges. They also talk with notables in the community, such as teachers, pastors, traditional healers and elected officials. Selected communities identify a single project leader who will be the primary point of contact with the HTRIP team. They also guide the selection of about 30 residents who will attend monthly education sessions for 9 months, learn the principles of agroforestry, community participation and decision-making. HTIRP is a multi-generational program striving to provide knowledge to elder farmers and next generation of farmers. Local religious institutions help identify the network of local farmers and on occasion provide space for classes, and nurseries.
Throughout the Artibonite, farmers associations, some formal and others informal, also play a role in engaging farmers, assessing needs, and determining interest.
The education spaces are often churches or local schools, which can accommodate the community members HTRIP serves. Many of the HTRIP communities are small (30-200 families) and isolated. Almost all of the participants are not literate, and a significant proportion of them are women, who recognize the potential gains of HTRIP for their domestic economies.
While these families do not normally function as an economic unit, they are the reserve of supportive labor when planting, harvesting, or other major tasks are confronted. By participating in the HTRIP system, the families create positive support groups among their piers.
HTRIP educators and technicians work hands on with farmers. They are carefully vetted and trained in HTRIP systems. They are largely teaching through verbal communication since the vast majority of the mountain population is illiterate, but not, it is important to note, unintelligent.
Images and songs are used in the HTRIP curriculum to translate ideas, but nothing is more effective than the hands on training of the farmers. Educators have to gain the trust of the farmers, since having a bad year in the mountain farms can have detrimental effects to the livelihood of families.
Convincing farmers to adopt new systems to farm their land, which has often passed through generations, comes with some sacrifice. It requires farmers to put a lot of faith in HTRIP technicians. Through careful training and sensitivity HTRIP has successfully worked with thousands of farmers.
Agronomes are highly educated farmers who can be contracted to help farmers improve systems. These individuals are respected in the region, and holding the title of Ago (Agronomist in English). This is an important job in a region, which depends mostly on farming. HTRIP has several agronomes it employs to help set up HTRIP plots and continue to consult with the communities long after graduation.
During the educational months of HTRIP, technicians organize communal work groups (Kombits, a traditional model), to establish a demonstration plot, usually on a steep, unproductive hillside.
The demonstration plot is chosen to be in a central visible location that is relatively easy to access from the road, and generally will require soil conservation work and fencing.
Soil conservation is necessary on any site with a slope, and the number of terraces that are installed per plot increases if the plot is more steeply sloping. Retaining walls are the major site preparation intervention, and they help to control erosion and to retain rainwater. These walls are created with large rocks found on the farming grounds and are assembled carefully with tried and tested techniques that do not require cement, and are created with little more than hand tools.
Installing the soil conservation rock walls also helps to gather the large rocks that are always to be found on eroded sites and clear up more of the inter-terrace spaces for planting. HTRIP provides the tools and the all-important afternoon meal.
The farmers prepare contour trenches to plant the new trees, and to slow the loss of rainwater and soil. They also work above the plots on higher elevation to channel rainwater into catch basins and cisterns, to extend the growing season.
The curriculum is designed to walk farmers through the step-by-step process of planting and cultivating several species of trees. The educational model was developed to provide services to a region, which has some of the country’s highest illiteracy rates. In the classroom a combination of pictures and phrases are used to mark key points.
In the field lessons are communicated verbally by highly trained technicians, and put to direct practice by the participants. The HTRIP technicians are also available for farmers to provide additional support, training, and answer questions for years after the initial engagement.
The core curriculum is enriched each year to include best practices from recent experiences, as well as from exchange visits with other programs in Haiti, and through attendance at agroforestry conferences in Haiti and elsewhere (where the HTRIP team are frequent presenters).
The planting of trees in the demonstration plots starts at the beginning of the annual summer rainy season. Seedlings are started in community nurseries from indigenous trees, which have proven to be adapted to the harsh conditions, and which have marketable value as well as enriching the soil.
Each plot is a planned pattern, which separates tree species, and mixes timber trees with nitrogen-fixing varieties. Traditional food crops are planted between the young trees, ensuring that the farmers can sustain a more nutritious diet.
In the following years, members of the HTRIP communities are supported in planting filial plots on their lands, and in developing their own tree nurseries for further plantings.
By teaching systems to collect soil, create compost, and collect rainwater a more divers set of crops are being planted in the mountains than before the introduction of HTRIP.
Where farmers were traditionally planting corn on harsh rocky land, they are now planting rows of peanuts, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and spices along with the corn.
By trapping eroding soil and water with rock walls and planting trees, which also slows soil erosion, farmers are able to plant more diverse crops in select areas. Animal husbandry plays a roll in creating fertile soil and good growing conditions. The introduction of basic apiculture techniques also helps increase food productivity.
Graduation from the HTRIP program is always a festive celebration. For so many it is the only formal education they have ever received, and in the mountain communities it is the most important thing most people have.
In a community of farmers, graduating from a program, which will give them the skills you they to increase productivity, there is a lot to celebrate. Often youth create songs and dance performances. Speeches and applauds are in abundance. HTRIP not only teaches farming practices it strengthens communities and ensures healthier happier families. The graduation of 7,484 participants from HTRIP programs around the department of the Artibonite shows that.