Sewanee Senior Honors Theses 2017

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    A Comparison of Soil and Site Conditions in Coffee-Based Agroforestry Systems in Three Regions of Central Haiti
    (University of the South, 2017-04-30) Davis, Peter; McGrath, Deborah (Capstone Co-Advisor); Potter, Bran (Capstone Co-Advisor)
    Zanmi Kafe (Haitian Kreyol for Partners in Coffee) is a collaboration between Sewanee the University of the South and the Hattian NGO Zanmi Agrikol (Partners in Agriculture) based in Haiti’s Central Plateau that works with rural farmers to implement agroforestry practices through a payment for ecosystem services (PES) structure. The structure of PES payments reward landholders for land stewardship practices in an effort to improve rural poverty not just economically, but also environmentally (Midler et al 2010). Farm productivity in Haiti’s Central Plateau region suffers from deforestation and resultant soil erosion as well as a lack of arable land on steep rocky slopes. Shade grown coffee, a crop requested by the Haitian farmers in Zanmi Kafe, offers an important agroforestry strategy because it incentivizes the planting of a variety of over-story shade trees with the potential to increase households livelihoods and environmental resilience in these remote mountain areas. Since the establishment of the shade coffee-based agroforests in 2013, comprehensive soil studies have been conducted to characterize the conditions in which the trees are growing, and provide information that will help farmers more effectively manage these systems. We have been working with our farmer-collaborators in three regions to analyze soil chemistry, organic horizon mass, nutrient content, soil depth and percent slope of home garden and open fields. We also assessed site factors such as elevation, and percent canopy openness, as well as coffee seedling survival. Our results demonstrate that the calcium-carbonate-derived soils in these highland areas are neutral to slightly alkaline, low in organic matter, with highly variable amounts of phosphorus. In Baptiste, the oldest, most elevated, mesic and productive coffee growing region, the soils are slightly acidic but higher in organic matter. A better understanding of the region’s soil characteristics aims to help farmers increase their crop yield by adopting plants and strategies more conducive to the Central Plateau. Contour alley cropping and grass terracing may help reduce soil erosion and increase productivity on farms where shallow dry soils inhibit coffee production.
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    Examining the Relationship Between Household Health and Environmental Conditions in Haiti’s Central
    (University of the South, 2017-05-03) Pearce, Duncan; McGrath, Deborah (Thesis Advisor)
    For rural subsistence farmers in developing countries, human health and the environment is a complex and interconnected relationship. As part of a long-term agroforestry project, this study explored connections among household health, socioeconomic status, and environmental conditions of rural farmers in two highland communities of the Central Plateau of Haiti. Household surveys were conducted in Haitian creole to gather baseline information on family health, socioeconomic status, and farm characteristics. Environmental indices, such as tree density and canopy cover, soil chemistry, kitchen ventilation, and access to clean water were also assessed. Our preliminary findings suggest that environmental conditions are important determinants of both health and socioeconomic status. Deforestation of the Central Plateau has resulted in severe soil erosion that limits land productivity, which may be reflected in the narrow diet of grains (maize and millet), beans, peas and some fruits that households produce and consume. Since these farmers grow almost all of what they eat, this low dietary diversity may contribute to nutritional deficiencies and health problems, as well as exacerbate food insecurity when one production of one of these staples fails. We also found that most families rely on medicinal plants for treating ailments, although over-the-counter medicines are widely and indiscriminately available in the central markets. The overarching goal of this project is to help farmers adopt and manage more resilient and diverse agroecosystems that raise farm productivity and improve food security, ultimately leading to better nutrition, health, and economic gains.