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Student Life

Students Build Bamboo Nurseries in Haiti

By Stacey Shackford

Bamboo Presentation

He may be just 19 years old, but Chris Dennis ’13 has already embarked on an ambitious international project that he believes is a simple solution to several of Haiti’s environmental, economic, and social problems: bamboo.

Dennis, a sophomore in International Agriculture and Rural Development, and four of his friends have started several bamboo nurseries in Haiti to ease the island’s environmental crisis and help house the 1.5 million Haitians rendered homeless by the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

Bamboo is a versatile, fast-growing, and rapidly renewable crop that can be used for housing, fuel, crafts, and environmental restoration, Dennis says. Planting the non-invasive “clumping” variety in heavily eroded areas helps save the soil, prevents flooding, and provides a habitat for wildlife. It also relieves stress on the island nation’s few remaining forests, the most fragile of which contains the last square mile of a unique kind of cloud forest left in the world.

“Less than one percent of the country’s forest cover remains, and it’s still being cut at a rapid rate. Plus, 36 million tons of fertile topsoil are lost every year to erosion caused by this deforestation. It leads to flooding, destroys coral reefs, and reduces agricultural and fishing yields,” Dennis says.

“There are so many problems, and they’re all interconnected,” he adds. “With bamboo, we can reduce poverty and help the environment.”

The Developing Bamboo project was inspired by an initial trip in February 2010, when the group of Ithaca High School graduates went to make free promotional videos for nonprofit organizations in Haiti after the earthquake.

“The first trip was completely life-changing and eye-opening. It introduced us to a world we didn’t really know existed,” Dennis says. “It sowed the seeds. After that, we wanted to get involved in something more long term and tangible, something we could directly do to help.”

Since then, the students have scraped together money from summer jobs, bake sales, and benefit concerts to fund two additional trips and have planted roughly 15,000 square feet of bamboo nursery. They have partnered with a local youth organization called CODEHA, the Association of the Peasants of Fondwa, and the NGO Volunteers For Peace, among others.

“Being young has been an advantage because people are way less threatened, and they want to take care of you. Plus, they seem to like our naive exuberance,” Dennis says.

Each 2,000-square-foot nursery costs just $500 and produces seedlings that can be used for reforestation with construction-grade bamboo. Once built and self-sufficient, the nurseries’ operation is turned over to local Haitian organizations.

The next step is to make bamboo production an attractive and economically viable livelihood option that farmers will adopt on a country-wide scale. Interest so far has been high. More than 200 people turned up for a recent presentation in La Vallee de Jacmel, about 50 miles south of the Haitiancapital, Port-au-Prince.

“Our goal is to plant as many nurseries as possible, and educate as many people as possible,” Dennis says.

He is inviting other students to join him on his trips and has started a student group on campus. Other founding members include Jamie Johnson ’13 and Sidney Madsen ’13.