Adoption of rock walls as a soil conservation structure in Haiti
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Land degradation has been identified as one of the most serious ecological, environmental, and economic problems facing the Haitian society today. One particular problem is soil erosion. Throughout the 19th century, demographic, socioeconomic, and market pressures forced Haitian farmers to clear forest areas in order to grow annual crops on steep and fragile lands. Crop intensification and continuous cultivation of steep lands without supplementary use of conservation practices have accelerated the rate of soil loss in Haiti. Early efforts to restrict environmental damage emanating from soil erosion have focused on mechanical structures, such as rock walls and gully plugs. Since the early 1940s, government and non-governmental agencies have launched several watershed management projects using rock walls as the principal soil conservation practice. Despite the effectiveness of this technique in controlling erosion and the high return on investment, its diffusion throughout Haiti is limited. When the practice is adopted, the structures are not adequately maintained. Previous studies focused on land tenancy and investment costs. They indicated that high capital expenditures for installation of rock walls and the lack of land security discouraged farmers from investing in rock walls, even in areas where rocks are abundant. This investigation concentrates on the adoption and management of rock walls in Fort-Jacques, a hilly area located about 30 miles southeast of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. The results presented in this publication are based on a survey conducted on 115 farm households in the Fort-Jacques area between December 1999 and January 2000. Fort-Jacques is considered one of the zones where farmers have historically invested in rock walls without government subsidy. Adoption of this practice, which requires significant cash and labor investments, is influenced by the value of the crops grown in this area and the slope of the land. Encouraging adoption and management of rock walls in Fort-Jacques and surrounding areas is important because of the negative impacts of soil erosion on the environment, and the threat soil erosion represents to downstream villages. Farmers' behavior toward adoption and management of rock walls in the study area is influenced by social and economic factors. Gender, training in soil conservation, and per capita income are found to be positively and significantly influential in the adoption of rock walls. The results imply that male farmers are more likely to adopt rock walls than females. Also, training in soil conservation practices raises farmers' awareness of the potential damage of soil erosion, and consequently positively affects the adoption of conservation measures. Nonetheless, implementation of rock walls is cash demanding. Farmers with higher per capita income seem to be more likely to invest in rock walls than low-income farmers. Larger farms and group membership inhibit the adoption of rock walls as evidenced by the negative sign of the coefficients. Limited resource farmers, whose survival depends on the piece of land they operate, are more likely to adopt rock walls because less cash is needed to protect a small farm than a larger one. It is obvious that rock walls are very important to small-scale farmers in Fort-Jacques. A number of farm operators have established rock wall structures on their plots to facilitate the production of vegetable crops. The study shows the importance of socioeconomic factors in farmers' decisions to adopt and manage rock wall structures. Improvement of the market channels for both inputs and outputs of the main vegetable crops produced in the area may be an important step toward encouraging the adoption of rock walls in Fort-Jacques.