Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Professor of Forestry, Charles Ruffner, Promotes Agroforestry in the Dominican Republic

Farmer to Farmer volunteer Charles Ruffner with
Dominican producers
Last month, the community of El Cercado, San Juan in the Dominican Republic received a visit from Charles Ruffner, a Forestry Professor at Southern Illinois University. During his visit, Charles worked with the San Pedro and Pablo Federation, a nongovernmental organization of 21 farmer associations and 600 subsistence farm families that helps producers implement agroforestry practices on their farms. Agroforestry is a farming technique that involves planting fruit, nut, and woody trees on the farm with a variety of crops. Charles’s role during his week-long visit was to help farmers map and plan these planting schemes so they could not only lessen the environmental impacts of their farming practices but also improve their incomes. 

Smoke in the mountains - a result of slash-and-burn
agricultural techniques

Agroforestry is being promoted as a farmer-friendly way to reduce the negative impacts of swidden, or slash-and-burn, agriculture. Swidden agriculture is a common growing method in the Dominican Republic, where forests are cleared to expand areas for crop production. In a country with such mountainous terrain, this practice has had harsh environmental effects, including soil erosion and poor water quality, which ultimately leads to decreased agricultural productivity and lost income. However, when trees are planted throughout the farm and are providing a secondary income to producers, farmers are less likely to use slash-and-burn techniques, as fire damages the trees.
Charles and a counterpart presenting on soil conservation

Through a combination of site visits, farmer interviews, and workshops, Charles was able to reach many farmers within the San Pedro and Pablo Federation network. He helped plant avocado and other fruit trees, and assisted with land terracing for erosion control. He also led workshops about soil conservation and fire prevention techniques. Though his visit was brief, the San Pedro and Pablo Federation is now better equipped to successfully promote agroforestry in the region, ultimately improving the health, nutrition, and economic wellbeing of the farmers involved and conserving precious soil and water resources for future generations to come.

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