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17637: Lemieux: South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Haiti's `Garden of Eden' torn apart in search for arable land (fwd)



From: JD Lemieux <lxhaiti@yahoo.com>

* * *
Haiti's `Garden of Eden' torn apart in search for arable
land

KENSCOFF, HAITI-When Victor Wynne came to Haiti, there was
still plenty of shade.

In 1925, the young civil engineer found a nation that was
lush, rugged and untamed. Haiti had 60 percent of its
original forest cover. The mountains were thick with trees,
and rivers ran strong and clear.

Wynne-a soft-spoken man with the large hands of a builder
and degrees from Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of
Technology-set out with other American engineers to rebuild
a country that had seen 102 civil wars, coups and political
upheavals in a century of independence from France.

They designed miles of roads, erected 200 bridges and dug
82 miles of irrigation canals. Clean water ran in the
cities, an electrical grid was established, and Haiti had
the first telephone exchange in all of Latin America.
Agrarian reforms were launched, national forests were
designated as protected lands and soil conservation was
taught at agricultural schools throughout the country.

When the Marines left Haiti in 1934, Wynne stayed. He
married a Haitian woman from Gonaives, worked as a
construction engineer and moved to Kenscoff Mountain above
Port-au-Prince. There, on 30 acres he called Wynne Farm, he
built a botanical garden and experimented with agricultural
techniques such as terracing.

Agricultural specialists from around the world visited the
farm, described as a "Garden of Eden." Wynne would serve
them foods produced from exotic plants on the farm and
expound on how soil-conservation techniques could save
Haiti.

"There can be no viable long-term agricultural cropping or
reforestation on hillside or mountain slopes unless these
slopes are first protected from soil erosion in heavy
rainfalls," he wrote in one agricultural journal.
"Protective measures to conserve soil must come first."

Until his death in 1994, he was a prophet unheeded by his
adopted land. He watched as deforestation turned many
mountain regions into deserts. He saw an elaborate
irrigation system fall into disrepair. He grew frustrated
after the capital city's seafront Harry Truman Boulevard,
which he had helped design, was allowed to sink, crack and
flood because of erosion.

But what Wynne never saw coming was the bulldozer that
plowed through the farm earlier this year, cutting through
beloved cypress and sequoia trees, crushing ancient tree
ferns and sending giant boulders tumbling through the
glimmering green forests.

"This is a place I've known since childhood," said his
daughter, Jane Wynne, who has been fighting to save what's
left of the farm. "You came up here to listen to the frogs,
to study the plants, just to really get caught up in
nature. But look at this. All of Haiti is being destroyed
like this."

Wynne Farm is one of a handful of places that have remained
relatively untouched by human incursion in Haiti. As trees
disappear and good farmland shrinks, tracts valued only for
their habitats are getting harder to defend.

"What's happening at Wynne Farm is just one more example of
the gangsterism that's destroying this country," said
Jean-Andre Victor, one of Haiti's leading environmental
researchers. "It's a natural treasure what Victor Wynne did
up there. Now it's all being taken apart by highwaymen."

Victor Wynne poured his life savings into the property,
hiring workmen to dig a series of terraces about 4 feet
wide that slope backward, toward the mountain, to collect
water. Wynne looked to other countries for growing
techniques and plants that he hoped could prosper in Haiti
and improve the life of its peasants.

"He introduced many fruit trees in Haiti, many plants,"
said Jane Wynne. "Because Haiti is mountainous, he studied
what the Indians did in Machu Picchu, the Incas in Peru. So
he focused on  variations on terracing."

"My dad used to tell us that in order to establish a place,
try to get it as far away from civilization as possible.
Put it on the top of a mountain so it's not easy to get at.
Because people won't climb the mountain.

"I'm sorry for my dad. It's proven not to be the right
thing here. Maybe in a country where there's some
consciousness of the environment."

---

(c) 2003 .



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