Friday, February 18, 2011

Supporting Communities and Conservation in the Dominican Republic

Children take a tour of a nursery in Oviedo
After visiting Formon near Macaya National Park in Haiti last week, our director of conservation, Mara Kerry, has spent the last few days visiting our partner, Grupo Jaragua, in the Dominican Republic.

Grupo Jaragua is working to promote sustainable livelihoods with the support of Nature Canada and the Canadian International Development Agency, just like our Haitian partner, Haiti Audubon Society, is doing in Haiti. As Canadian co-partners in BirdLife International, we are committed to working across borders for birds and people.

Grupo Jaragua’s work is centered on the community of Oviedo in southwestern Dominican Republic, and is aimed at improving the lives of people in the community while ensuring the conservation of the Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve.

The Reserve is critically important for many endemic species of plants, birds and other animals in the Caribbean. The Bicknell's Thrush – an at-risk bird species facing habitat loss across its range – spends the winter in the Reserve, and many more migratory birds depend on the forests of Haiti and the Dominican Republic as safe wintering grounds and stop-over sites.

Here's what Mara had to say about her visit:

Upon my arrival in Oviedo, I was met by a large group including staff, volunteers and members of the local mothers', children's and livestock producers' groups. Many of the volunteers were the beneficiaries of the summer camps for children that Grupo Jaragua has been running in the area for years. As young adults, they are determined to make a difference and advance sustainable development and conservation.

One young man testified that he used to hunt wild animals and plants in the Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve. Since participating in the workshops of Grupo Jaragua, he has changed his behavior – he has stopped hunting. He understands the unique value of the plants and animals in the region and that some are endangered and is now trying to influence his own family stop hunting. He would like his uncles in particular to stop hunting and learn to care for the forests and its animals. Another young man was inspired by the workshops to go to university to study biology so that he can contribute to his country's growth towards sustainability.

Grupo Jaragua has also been instrumental in building tree nurseries in Oviedo. I had the chance to pay them a visit – they’re really cool!
A volunteer inspects the trees inside a tree nursery in Oviedo.
The nurseries only use native plants. Grupo Jaragua is piloting several agroforestry plots with some of these native species, which also have an economic value to the community.
A volunteer waters a seedling planted as part of an agroforestry project in Oviedo.
Here’s the plan for these pilot projects: in the canopy there will be trees that can provide fuel for cooking, fruit, and wood for crafts and furniture. The really neat thing about this is that these resources can be harvested from just the branches – the tree does not need to be cut down.

In the understory, there will be trees that provide food, such as fruit, for the community. One tree in particular produces a berry that the people of Oviedo use to make the local wine which can be sold for a good price. Another is a shrub-like plant whose leaves can be used to make tea and the bark to make a perfume that is popular here and in Haiti. In addition, a local indigenous species of oregano can be grown along with crops like yuca and sweet potato.

Five families in the area are experimenting with agroforestry practices on their own land. And they haven’t stopped there – they are also experimenting with "live fences" that can produce food for animals (goats and cattle) in a sustainable manner.

Grupo Jaragua has also helped build the community centre where it hosts workshops on sustainable resource use and climate change adaptation practices. These workshops are open to everyone in the community, and as a result, more people know more about climate change, birds conservation and agroforestry. The building itself is wonderful and the main hall is used by the community for everything from the workshops to local weddings, birthdays and even funerals. In addition, the centre provides a source of income. The cabins can be rented out to visitors, technical experts and for other community events.

I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen during my visit. The people of Oviedo have really embraced the idea of integrating sustainable practices into their daily lives and we’re thrilled to be part of that change. This would not be possible without the work of our partner, Grupo Jaragua. We are very proud to support this work. Projects in communities like Oviedo are making a tangible difference to people’s lives and it is our hope that they will continue to receive the support they need to build a better future.


Spencer said...

Keep up the good work! You guys are doing a wonderful job.