Breaking Ground in the Borderlands

If you’ve been to the Dominican Republic, chances are, you saw the eastern part of the country, either the coast or the area around the capital of Santo Domingo.

Statistically, these are the places most visitors go.

Far fewer visitors go west. If you have, you may have more intimate knowledge of the Dominican Republic, or perhaps you’re one of the lucky few. The beauty found on the western side of the country is quite different from the coastal attractions that draw cruisers, vacationers, and honeymooners from all over.

As you move closer to the border with Haiti, you’ll find lush landscapes that heal the soil from the effects of erosion. You’ll find good ground for growing a wide variety of tropical crops. You’ll possibly find yourself at a higher elevation. Most of the villages will be quiet and rural. There is more poverty and fewer opportunities in this area, but you still won’t be able to escape the warmth of the people.

Plant With Purpose began working in this region a few years ago, expanding from its core of villages located in the hills north of Santo Domingo. The new terrain brought with it new challenges, both in connecting with the local communities, and adapting to the environmental differences in a new watershed.

Breaking Ground in the Borderlands
Breaking Ground in the Borderlands

We specifically targeted Caña, a watershed on the Haitian-Dominican border, as one where local communities could benefit greatly from sustainable agriculture.

A key part of starting work in a brand new area is finding early adopters. The first few people to adopt a new activity, behavior, or habit are extremely important. Their willingness to try new things turns into proof that these ideas and techniques work. Those examples then become reasons for the rest of their neighbors to consider shifting their behavior.

Thankfully, it didn’t take Plant With Purpose too long to find a few enthusiastic participants in the area of Caña.

Isidro and his wife Idalisa had lived their entire lives in the area. They had always been vulnerable to the impact of rain and drought. While their land appeared lush and healthy, it was also extremely volatile. An extreme season could result in food insecurity and under-production. The heaviest rains could cause soil nutrients to wash out, starving Isidro’s crops. Prolonged droughts could kill off the fruits that they relied on.

Plant With Purpose’s Dominican team immediately focused on agroforestry as a helpful solution. Agroforestry incorporates tree planting on farmland so that crops and trees effectively grow in the same space. The trees help to attract and hold down water for the smaller crops, while their roots prevent soil runoff.

Isidro and Idalisa were early adopters of Plant With Purpose's program in Caña
Isidro and Idalisa were early adopters of Plant With Purpose’s program in Caña

Isidro was one of the first to develop his agroforestry crop.

“Not all of the land is being worked on,” he would say, “because coffee must be cultivated in different stages.”

While the planting of coffee requires more deliberate action, the crop can resist prolonged drought and rain, which creates more stability. In addition, Isidro and Idalisa grow avocados, oranges, and green bananas, all on agroforestry plots.

When these investments pay off, they’ll pay off big. The couple can sell 2200 pounds of coffee from each plot of land. 100 pounds alone can command close to 5000 Dominican pesos, or 100 US Dollars.

Ultimately, it’s about building resilience in communities like Caña, and among participants like Islida and Isidro. We’re still excited to see how they continue to thrive.

Supporting a community often goes further than just supporting a collection of individuals. Why? Because an empowered community nurtures people who wish to help each other. They are no longer recipients of help, but partners in action. To learn more about how to become a Purpose Partner, click here.

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