Forests and the forestry sector


In 1492, when Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti, the island was well covered with forests, but today forests cover only 88 000 ha or 3.2 percent of the land area. The deforestation process that began under colonization has continued to be severe ¿ 5.7 percent (7 000 ha) per year in the period 1990-2000. The greatest cause of deforestation has been the demand for fuelwood (which provides almost all residential fuel), as well as logging for construction (scaffolding, timber), furniture and handicrafts.

The main vegetation types are pine forests, chiefly at high elevations; closed broadleaf forests at elevations above 800 m; humid upland and lowland forests; dry forests; mangroves; and scattered trees in agricultural areas. There are 20 000 ha of forest plantations.

Of the remaining forests, virtually all have been drastically modified. Deforested areas are burned, cultivated and grazed by untended goats. Loss of forest cover has resulted in soil erosion, silting of dam and other hydraulic works and reduction in quality and quantity of water resources.

The densest forests remaining are in the National Parks. The major parks are Pic Macaya Peak (2 000 ha) and Parc La Visite (4 000 ha). The absence of well defined boundaries and limited funding prevent effective protection. The other large forest area in the country is the Forêt des Pins of 32 000 ha (of which 15 000 ha is actually forest). It is valued for its species richness and its protective and recreational roles. This forest is the ¿chateau d¿eau¿ of the Plaine du Cul de Sac, providing water for Port-au-Prince. It has a great variety of tree species ¿ more than 100 ¿ including some colorful and beautiful ombelliferous species and agavas (Agava antillenum). The island of Hispanola is the only natural growing place of Pinus occidentalis.

Both the Forêt des Pins and La Visite have tourism potential. Facilities at La Visite are managed under a private initiative, while the bungalows in the Pine Forest have passed from the Société Haïtiano-Americaine de Developpement Agricole (SHADA) into government hands.

Products and trade
Hardwood such as Lysisoma latisilica, Catalpa longisima, Ocotea sp, Cedrela odorata, Switenia mahogani and even some fruit-trees are utilized as timber. There is a crucial lack of data about the volume produced in the country. However, millions of dollars worth of forest products are imported every year.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, Haiti exported roundwood such as Haematoxylon campechianum. In the 1940s, the pine forest in the southeastern part of the country was given in concession to SHADA (Société Haïtiano-Americaine de Developpement Agricole) for the production of timber. By 1960, the forest¿s sawmill was turned over to Haitian private companies. They did not harvest timber in a sustainable manner. Since the middle of the 1980s, the Ministry of Agriculture has closed all the sawmills. Nonetheless, illegal (and clearly unsustainable) harvesting continues.

Fuelwood is used in three forms: firewood, charcoal and ¿bois gras¿ (pieces of pine with a certain amount of pine resin to start charcoal combustion). As resin extraction is done clandestinely and without a management plan, it is very harmful to the trees and therefore to the forest. Charcoal is produced in the country and is used by about one million families in the urban regions.

About 26 million bags of charcoal are estimated to be consumed every year. It is estimated that more than 5 000 people are involved in charcoal-related business. The Haitian Government has tried to promote the utilization of propane gas as a substitute for charcoal, but with limited success because of the expense and shortages of propane.

The main non-wood forest products are honey, the fruit caïmite (Chrysophilum sp.), edible mushrooms, snails, flowers and leaves for infusions and medicinal plants. Hunting is regulated by the Parks and Wildlife Service, but the laws are not enforced because of lack of personnel.

Last updated: March 2002

last updated:  Thursday, January 14, 2016