The rock-strewn road into the village of Juan Adrian makes for a bumpy ride that can turn a new car old in a hurry. But the wear and tear is worth it because the view from Juan Adrian, located about an hour east of the Dominican Republic capital of Santo Domingo, is breathtaking. A sheet of mist rises high above the trees and flora blanketing the mountains directly behind the village. It seems as if every one of the 8,000 plant species in the Dominican Republic resides on these mountains. Chic, spiky coconut and royal palm trees mingle with droopy, tear-shaped cacaos, creolean pines and stout Hispaniolan mahogany. A rich but pleasant aroma of green permeates the damp air.
The greenery in Juan Adrian isn’t confined to the mountain vista. A central feature of the village, which is located in the municipality of the same name, is a large nursery filled with rows of coffee plants, avocado, cacao and orange trees. The nursery is part of the Juan Adrian Agricultural Project, whose goal is to develop economically-viable crops and reclaim lands lost or damaged by soil erosion and deforestation.
“We still have beautiful vegetation here,” says Sifrido Cruz Ventura, Director of the Municipality of Juan Adrian. “But a lot of valuable forestland has been lost to livestock farming, development, disease and erosion. So we are very serious about preserving the environment.”
All told, the project supported the establishment of four nurseries in the municipality, which sponsors the program along with the Dominican Council of Coffee Producers and Pueblo Viejo Dominicana Corporation (PVDC), the joint venture between Barrick (60 percent) and Goldcorp (40 percent) that owns the Pueblo Viejo mine. The project is providing a direct economic benefit to 75 families and indirectly benefiting another 300 families, Ventura says, noting that the coffee beans and fruits must be handpicked, washed and dried before being moved to the next stage of the supply chain.
In addition to sponsoring the Juan Adrian Agricultural Project, PVDC also supports the Colinas Bajas – Los Haitises Forestry Project. While the projects have some overlapping objectives, such as reforestation, the Colinas Bajas – Los Haitises Project is even more ambitious in scope, directly or indirectly touching the lives of residents of 165 communities across 22 districts near the Pueblo Viejo mine. The three-year project aims to train local farmers how to plant and maintain nurseries, facilitate and support the establishment of agro-forestry businesses, spur eco-tourism and fund improvements to local infrastructure, such as roads and local water supply.
PVDC is investing $1.5 million over the three-year life of the project, as is ENDA (Environment and Development Action), the non-governmental organization that is implementing the program on the ground.
“A key underlying objective is to convert the local economy to one based on agro-forestry rather than livestock farming,” says Mamerto Valerio, the Caribbean Representative for ENDA. “Many of the trees that we’re encouraging farmers to plant retain moisture and protect local rivers and waterways. On the other hand, land that is cleared of trees and used for livestock farming becomes dry, degraded and vulnerable to erosion. We’re trying to rehabilitate this land.”
To date, approximately 2,000 hectares of trees have been planted since the project began in late 2011. Many of these are fruit trees, such as mango and avocado, but there are also large numbers of Honduran mahogany, known locally as Caoba. The Caoba are prized for their wood and generate substantial income for local farmers.
“We’re very satisfied with the way this project is protecting the environment and helping to improve the local economy,” says Pedro Ferreira, President of the Zambrana Federation, which represents 62 communities that are benefiting from the program. “The trees that we’re planting are long-life trees that will be here in 20 years to support our children, and hopefully they’ll be here to support many generations to come.”