By Meg Wilcox, EcoWatch, July 12, 2016
Read any article about Haiti's environment and you'll encounter the same grim statistic, that 98 percent of the country is deforested. That's hard to fathom. How could a country possibly have only two percent tree cover?
Death by a Thousand Cuts, a 2012 film that tells the tale of a brutal murder related to Haiti's charcoal trade, shines a light on the forces behind the nation's dismal environmental state. Beyond the legacy left by the French, grinding poverty is a root cause, with per capita income in Haiti just $828 in 2014. Two-thirds of Haitians are subsistence farmers and the vast majority cook their food with wood charcoal. Charcoal production fuels deforestation, which leads to soil erosion, loss of productive agricultural land and a vicious cycle of poverty.
An estimated 50 percent of Haitian topsoil in fact has been washed away, irreparably damaging farmland and contributing to crop losses of up to 70 percent in recent years. But, wait, what does this have to do with your chocolate bar?
Chocolate, of course, comes from cocoa, which grows on trees. It needs shade and that means cocoa farms are often found in forests, at the base of mountains. Cocoa is, surprisingly, Haiti's third largest export crop. In fact, if you visit Haiti's verdant cocoa region in the north, near Cap-Haïtien, that 98 percent deforestation statistic belies what you'll see.