Plan Sierra: Seeds of hope in the Dominican Republic
Since 2001, AFD has been financing a unique program combining reforestation, soil protection and natural resources development in the Cordillera Central. Fifteen years on, the lives of the residents of the Sierra region have been changed.
In the mountainous regions of the center of the Dominican Republic, logging, slash-and-burn farming and intensive farming had a devastating impact in the 20th century: deforestation, eroded soils and depletion of water resources. Here, like elsewhere, there have been inevitable consequences: rural exodus and loss of economic activity in the territories. In a context of agrarian revolutions, governments took measures in the late 1960s. Land was informally invaded, but with no real support, a response was necessary.
Pine trees and coffee trees to recover land
Plan Sierra is a public-private partnership which came about in 1979 in the watershed region of the Yaque del Norte River in the Northwest of the country. It was launched by a group of emigrants in the USA and local leaders and has been supported by AFD since 2001. “Before”, explains Juan Rodríguez, a forester, “a lot of land had been cleared here because we, as residents who lived here, worked on the conucos (family slash-and-burn farming) and illegal logging”. “Mentalities have changed”, adds Victor Tolentino, one of his neighbors who is mainly a herder. “With support from Plan Sierra, we started by sowing pine trees. But, like me, the vast majority of herders now also plant trees. In addition to being beneficial to the environment, it is also a commercial activity… Thanks to this, we have brought comfort to our animals and life to our countryside!”.
Pine trees, coffee trees, fruit trees… It involved covering soils in order to recover the territory in an ecological way. “We sought alternatives to mitigate the impact of livestock raising in the Sierra region”, explains Eddy Peralta, Executive Director of Plan Sierra, “And we succeeded in setting up sylvopastoral systems in which there is a harmonious combination of trees, pastures and dairy farming”.
Economic and social renewal in the Sierra region
Fifteen years on, it can be said that the results speak for themselves: production has risen from 700 liters of milk a day to over 20,000 liters. The sustainable intensification via sylvopastoral systems is driven by strong demand and is a major success. The Sierra region now has the most modern tree nursery in the country. To date, Plan Sierra has allowed the reforestation of over 7,400 hectares. 89 sylvopastoral systems have been set up, with a total surface area of 329 hectares. After experiencing a strong rural exodus, particularly with emigration to the USA, the region is undergoing a real economic and social renewal. 591 families have benefited from the creation of supply systems with technical assistance from Plan Sierra. 3,780 participants have attended 183 awareness-raising activities (workshops, conferences and lessons) conducted by Plan Sierra.
Holistic approach to environmental conservation
Plan Sierra is not, however, a program just about improving agricultural practices. Sanitation, waste management, access to rural credit and even tourism… everything is integrated. “Right from the start, the idea was to manage both the ecosystem and the socio-system”, points out Grégory Villeneuve, AFD’s Director in the Dominican Republic. “All the strengths and originality of Plan Sierra lie in the fact that it is a truly holistic plan to preserve a rural territory. In order to give communities the guarantee that they can permanently stay in the region, the challenge involved creating wealth-generating mechanisms that take environmental conservation into account”.
Access to good quality water for residents
Finally, water supply is a major aspect of the project. In the Sierra region, many families used to live 2 to 3 km away from water points… In addition, both the availability and quality of this essential resource were adversely affected by ancient farming practices. In the context of the plan, supply and irrigation systems were developed via local management organizations. The aim was not only to ensure that a pipe was connected to each household, but also to ensure that good quality water came out of it.
Taking things further…
“A number of successes can be put down to Plan Sierra”, adds Inmaculada Adames, President of Plan Sierra. “They need to be built upon… With AFD, we are drawing up the guidelines for a possible Plan Sierra III, which could involve local authorities more. We are also holding discussions with the Dominican Government to see how we can extend and improve this experience, not only in the Yaque watershed, but also with the other seven major watersheds which make up the Dominican territory.”