Monday, July 28, 2014

Working with Plan Yaque, Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic

For a change of scenery (from Africa) and a change of industry (from farming), I accepted a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment offered by Partners of the Americas. My assignment was from June 22 to July 11, 2014 and took place in the very pleasant town of Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. This town sits in the central highlands, almost equidistant between the north and south coasts. My task was to work with an environmental organization, Plan Yaque, to guide the development of a strategic plan. This organization seeks to preserve and also repair the Yaque del Norte watershed, the largest in the Caribbean.

Field officer, Mabel Barinas, visiting the Yaque del Norte watershed
There are so many threats to the watershed that I am not sure where to begin. In the upper reaches, deforestation is taking a toll. Fewer trees result in increased erosion, dumping sediment into the rivers.  The sediment eventually overwhelms the dams further downstream and leads to flooding - - a big problem for farmers who have fields near the rivers.

Settlements for the most part have no wastewater plants, so untreated sewage enters the rivers. Jarabacoa, a town of 30,000, also has no wastewater treatment program. Therefore, waste flows onward to Santiago, the DR’s second largest city with over one million inhabitants, where only 60% of the houses are connected to a sewer. The other 40% empty directly into the Yaque del Norte river.

Fortunately, the Farmer-to-Farmer program and the host organization Plan Yaque are very dedicated, environmentally savvy, and well-educated. There are many more problems than Plan Yaque can address in a lifetime. So, in the strategic plan, we selected a few linchpin problems that, if corrected, will create a positive domino effect. First, we will focus our efforts on the upper part of the watershed, as this will provide benefits all the way downstream. Second, we will focus on programs such as reforestation and solid waste management. Planting trees and other plants along stream banks can help to naturally filter wastewater and field run-off. Also, specific anti-litter efforts are easier to take hold in the upper watershed because there are fewer people. And third, we will focus on data collection and monitoring. 


Presenting the strategic plan to the Play Yaque Board on July 4, 2014
On a side note, it is always enjoyable to add a bit of play to a very stimulating work schedule. In Jarabacoa, the Parque Central is the nightlife nexus. Sunday evenings are as throbbing as anyplace I have ever seen. The open air bars spill their patrons, music, light shows, and drinks into the streets. The boom box bearing cars cruise around the park offering deafening techno beats into the night. Hundreds of motorcyclists show off for the crowds by weaving recklessly among the (mostly heedless) pedestrians. Every few minutes, a motorcyclist will lay a block-long wheelie. It would be my pleasure to return to the DR and work with this fine organization again.

- Bill Nichols, Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer in the Dominican Republic

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