My two weeks of Yard Garden work in May were spent in the mountains of Léogâne. The first week, the team and I spent visiting homes, drawing yard designs, doing the registrations for 2014 and just generally getting a feel for how the yard garden is developing, and what the next steps might need to be to help assure that the Léogàne farmer organization, ODEPOL, has a self-sustaining yard garden program.
During the second week, we did something pretty much completely different.
Rather than focusing on the area around peoples' homes, I led two workshops introducing an integrated system for soil conservation and soil rehabilitation called Sloping Agricultural Land Technology, or SALT. In Creole, we have translated the name as "Sistem Pwodiksyon an Pant", the system for production on slopes, or SIPWOPANT.
What is SALT/SIPWOPANT exactly?
"SALT is a package technology of soil conservation and food production,integrating differing soil conservation measures in just one setting. Basically, SALT is a method of growing field and permanent crops in 3 meter to 5 meter wide bands between contoured rows of nitrogen fixing trees. The nitrogen fixingtrees are thickly planted in double rows to make hedgerows. When a hedge is 1.5 to 2 meters tall, it is cut down to about 75 centimeters and the cuttings (tops) are placed in the alleyways to serve as organic fertilizer."
(From the document, How to farm your hilly land without losing your soil. Here is the link to that:
The SALT "how to" site )
Here are some other links that I just checked out that provide some insight into what SALT is about and what its impact has been:
1) A detailed description of SALT and its history: Description of SALT
2) Adoption of SALT in Asia & Africa: Adoption of SALT in Asia & Africa
3) Viability of SALT in the Himalayas: SALT in the Himalayas
4) The birthplace of SALT as an Eco-tourism site: Birthplace of SALT
My own history with SALT goes back to 1998, during my first year as a PC(USA) mission worker at Rancho Ebenezer in Niquinohomo, Nicaragua. Hurricane Mitch had just devastated northern Nicaraguan, most of Honduras and parts of El Salvador and Guatemala. A man named Harold Watson came to Nicaragua from the Southern Baptist Convention to evaluate how they might best address both the immediate needs for relief and the longer term needs for recovery. Harold, as it turns out, was the missionary in the Philippines who, together with the local farmers in the mountains of Davao, had developed this system. My boss, Rev. Franscisco Juárez, the director of Rancho Ebenezer, agreed that the center should incorporate the technique in its soil conservation and recovery work.
We did try out SALT at Rancho Ebenezer, under Harold's tutelage, and most everyone was impressed with the results. When I became a PC(USA) Mission Co-worker in Haiti, serving with MPP (Mouvement Paysan Papaye), it was one of the techniques we incorporated in working with the land MPP provided to develop the integrated diversified yard garden system. So technically, SALT, or SIPWOPANT, has been part of the yard garden system since we began developing that within MPP. But it really is a technique aimed at farmers' fields, not their yards.
After two years of working in the mountains of Léogâne, and after being encouraged by two of the key leaders of ODEPOL, I felt I had enough knowledge, and stamina, to give the system a try there. So Herve Delisma , my assistant in the FONDAMA Yard Garden program, and I organized two hands-on workshops in Léogâne. We held the first workshop at Luxène Sommervil's home in Bwa Nèf Matye, in the high part of the municipal sector, Orange--about 1,000 meters above sea level. We held the second workshop at Serge Trezye's home and in a field about twenty minutes up the mountain from his home. Serge lives in the rural community of Yeye in the municipal sector of Citronier which is between 200 and 300 meters above sea level.
Here are the pictures (photos by Herve Delisma, Lucien Joseph, Givenson Laurent and Mark Hare. Used by permission):
The first step was getting ourselves and the material up the mountain. Materials for SALT are simple. Hoes and picks, a rake if you have one, an A-level, stakes and seeds. In our case, we used Gliricidia sepium.
To get the seeds, Herve Delisma, my assistant in this project, had to drive about 45 minutes (one way) from his home, on his motorcycle, out into a remote community, to purchase the seeds from a spry but elderly woman we call Toun who used to work with the Road to Life Yard team.
There is nothing I do in Haiti that I could do without the people who surround me.
A diagram from How to farm your hilly land without losing your soil that explains how you can use your hand and your eyes to define the distances between the double lines of trees that protect the slope. Every time you sight past your hand to the base of the last hedgerow, you are creating a vertical drop of approximately one meter (3 feet). One vertical meter of drop is about all the force of rainwater running down the slope that you should ask a SALT hedgerow to tolerate. Any more and the coursing rainwater will continue to strip soil from your slope.
From our experience, the distances defined by the one meter drop are often too confining, and we prefer to keep the hedgerows farther apart. To inhibit erosion we combine SALT with some other soil conservation technique, such as green manures.
It is worth noting that all our measurements were based on the Haitian "gwo pous." That is the distance measured by extending your thumb and middle finger as far apart as possible. Five of these is usually about a meter. Five of my "gwo pous" is almost exactly 105 cm. For the distance between lines of trees, I measure two and a half "gwo pous."
The importance of using non-standard measures is to create an environment where any farmer will feel comfortable with the technology, whether or not they have sophisticated, expensive tools such as tape measures. In general we are trying to help set a path where the technology can become "ours" rather than "theirs."
Nailing on the mid-bar. An A-level needs two legs that are exactly the same length and when spread to 1.5 m to 2 m apart, will still be comfortable to work with. The mid-bar needs to go across exactly half way from top to bottom of the two legs. Nails are handy to hold everything together, although I have made these tied together with string. You need string and a rock to create a pendulum that hangs from where the two legs join at the top.
The "sweet spot" where the A-level marks a true level, is exactly in the middle of those two points.
This is obviously an artifact of me having watched too many TV game shows when I was a kid, but the rules have evolved over the last two years based on participant reactions and suggestions.
In general, farmers in Haiti seem to have about the same level of competitiveness as I do. Meaning, they like to compete, but they don't really want anyone to feel bad. Nobody complains when I lob a softball question at someone who isn't getting any of the answers, or when I give the team that is down an extra chance to make up points.
Usually I am only one of several trainers providing the questions, but this workshop everyone, including Herve, was learning from scratch.
We ended our time with a brief evaluation, which was very positive, and an excellent meal. And then team and I rested.