Deforestation and forest degradation in Haiti has been a critical concern as its environmental and socio-economic impacts threaten the country’s rich biodiversity, people’s lives, infrastructure, economic activities such as agriculture, and the provision of other ecosystem services such as water supply.

Several widely conflicting figures for Haiti’s remaining forest cover have been quoted in the literature since the 1980s, ranging from as low as 1–2% up to 30% of the country’s area. Many of those estimates were based on indirect information rather than on field surveys or remote sensing studies [1], [2]. A recent study based on analysis of satellite remote sensing data [1]  yielded an estimate of 29.4% (about 810,000 ha) as of 2010-2011. The latest official figures of Haiti’s forest cover were included in its national report to the UN-FAO 2020 Forest Resources Assessment [3]: based on a 2018 study of remote sensing data and vegetation maps, natural forests were estimated to cover 360,650 ha (13.81% of the country) in 2000, 330,850 ha (13.17%) in 2015, and projected to cover 315,300 ha (12.6%) in 2020.

The latter studies adopted loose definitions for forest as tree-covered areas with at least 10% [1] or 15% [3] canopy cover. By adopting such definitions, the estimates included severely degraded or disturbed forests, secondary vegetation growing on previously deforested areas, savannah vegetation, and others, in addition to primary, dense forests. A more recent study [4] showed that the country has lost almost all its primary forests —the most important ones for biodiversity. Primary forests covered 4.4% of Haiti’s area in 1988, then declined rapidly to 0.7% in 2000, and more gradually afterwards to leave only 0.32% in 2016. These figures can be compared with those from an early (1945), very rough survey of forest stocks in Haiti, which estimated the extent of dense forests at 500,000 ha plus 100,000 ha of mangrove swamps, for a total forest coverage of approximately 18–21% of the country [5].

Beyond the specific definition adopted and the exact extent of forest still remaining in Haiti, the extensive deforestation that the country has experienced is clearly evident when the vegetation cover of the adjacent Dominican Republic is compared with Haiti’s.

By leaving soil exposed to the direct impact of rain, the major effect of deforestation is soil erosion which, in turn, has serious consequences on water availability, flooding, and agricultural productivity. The loss of the natural habitat of plant and animal species caused by deforestation also causes a significant loss of biodiversity.


The loss of Haiti’s forests goes back almost five centuries and its causes include: timber overexploitation; extensive conversion of forested land to agriculture and livestock ranching driven by rapid population growth and exacerbated by the use of poor farming practices and the lack of effective management and territorial policies and regulatory instruments; and poverty and lack of access to energy forms other than firewood and charcoal [6], [7], [8], [9].

Haiti’s deforestation began during the colonial period with the clearing of land to plant cash crops. The process continued after independence and throughout the 19th century. After independence, land was unequally distributed, with most people having with small parcels that were worked with artisanal, poorly productive methods. The rapid population growth increased the demand and competition for agricultural land. Already, 66.4% of the land in Haiti is used for agricultural purposes and the land available is insufficient to keep pace with the growing population. Given the mountainous character of the country, much of the expansion of the agricultural frontier has taken place upon the slopes of steep hillsides, highly susceptible to erosion.

Firewood and charcoal are the primary source of energy in Haiti, accounting for about 66% of the country’s energy consumption. Between 75% and 92% of Haitian households are estimated to rely on charcoal for cooking, and approximately 946,500 tonnes of charcoal are consumed in Haiti every year, almost 50% being consumed just in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince [10]. While firewood extraction and charcoal production have clearly played a significant role in driving deforestation, recent evidence (e.g., the increasing production and consumption of charcoal) suggests that charcoal is now being produced from more renewable resources (secondary vegetation, informal energy plantations, etc.) rather than directly from natural forests [10], [11].


Key policies and governance approach

Haiti’s regulatory framework on forest and deforestation is extremely old and outdated; it includes the Law of 28 May 1936 enacting measures to stop deforestation [12] and the Decree-Law of 23 June 1937 on the regulation of forests [13]. The Environmental Action Plan 1999 [14] aimed to stop deforestation by developing alternative fuel sources.

The 2012 Strategic Development Plan for Haiti [15] included specific subprogrammes aimed at improving watershed management and improving the management and development of wood uses, regulating the use of firewood and charcoal, making charcoal production more sustainable, and incentivizing the use of alternative energy sources.

The (draft) Environmental Action Plan 2021 [16] also included a strategic objective on forests and energy aimed at improving the country’s tree cover and promoting the rational use of renewable energies.


Successes and Remaining Challenges

As recognized by the 2012 Strategic Development Plan for Haiti [15], little concrete efforts seem to have been implemented and scarce progress has been achieved in stopping deforestation, regulating its driving forces, and improving watershed management. Political instability and lack of funding have limited the impact of the intended policy reforms.


Initiatives and Development Plans

To address these issues, a number of reforestation projects funded by international donors have been undertaken over the years, but many of them with little success. USAID's Proje Pyebwa Programme was the country's major reforestation program in the 1980s. Between 1982 and 1991, the project distributed some 63 million trees to more than 300,000 small farmers [6], [17].

Later efforts to reduce deforestation have focused on intensifying reforestation, improving charcoal production, introducing the use of efficient stoves, and importing wood under USAID's Food for Peace program, and an IDB agriculture and reforestation project both in norther Haiti [18], [19].


The main drivers of current deforestation are the expansion of the agricultural frontier and the intense extraction of firewood and charcoal production for satisfying the demand of domestic energy.

  • A long-term, comprehensive vision of land-use planning and management such as the one envisioned in the 2012 Strategic Development Plan for Haiti, aimed at improving watershed management, protect, rehabilitate and enhance the environment and natural environments; ensure the protection of landscapes; manage the soil in an economical manner; protect agricultural land; and support and enable the sustainable development of natural resources would help to address one of the root causes of deforestation.
  • At the same time, initiatives to reduce and rationalize the use of charcoal and firewood by making their production and use more efficient (e.g., through efficient stoves) or to replace them as the main source of energy by incentivizing the use of alternative energy sources (e.g., wind, solar), would help to address the other root cause of deforestation and forest degradation.

[1] Churches, C.E., Wampler, P.J., Sun, W., Smith, A.J. 2014. Evaluation of forest cover estimates for Haiti using supervised classification of Landsat data. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation 30: 203–216.

[2] EnviroSociety 2016. Haiti is covered with trees

[3] UN-FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 – Main report. Rome

[4] Hedges, S.B., W.B. Cohen, J. Timyan, Z. Yang 2018. Haiti’s biodiversity threatened by nearly complete loss of primary forest. PNAS 115: 11850-11855

[5] Institute of Inter-American Affairs & Klein, M. A. 1945. Forest conditions in Haiti and their relation to the national economy. Washington, D.C.

[6] Library of Congress. Federal Research Division - Metz, Helen Chapin. 2001. Dominican Republic and Haiti: country studies.


[8] Climate Investment Fund 2013. Strategic Program for Climate Resilience

[9] Ministère de l’Environnement 2015. Programme Aligné d’Action National de Lutte contre la Désertification

[10] World Bank. 2018. Charcoal in Haiti. A National Assessment of Charcoal Production and Consumption Trends

[11] USAID 2021. PROLAND - Stimulating Smallholder Woodfuel Production: Lessons from Haiti’s Thriving Charcoal Market

[12] Loi du 28 mai 1936 édictant des mesures pour arrêter la déforestation

[13] Décret-1oi du 23 juin 1937 sur la règlementation des forêts.

[14] Ministère de l’Environnement. 1999. Plan d’action pour L’Environnement.


[16] Ministère de l’Environnement. 2021. Plan d’action pour L’Environnement d’Haïti (draft).

[17] Murray, G.F. & Bannister, M.E. 2004. Peasants, agroforesters, and anthropologists: A 20-year venture in income-generating trees and hedgerows in Haiti. Agroforestry Systems 61: 383–397

[18] USAID 2021. Strategic Framework 2020-2022 (updated)

[19] Grewer U, Nash J, Bockel L, Galford G, 2016. Chanje Lavi Plantè in Haiti: Hillside soil conservation as a measure to increase yields and sequester carbon in Haiti. CCAFS Info Note. Published by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

[20] Murray, G.F. & Bannister, M.E. 2004. Peasants, agroforesters, and anthropologists: A 20-year venture in income-generating trees and hedgerows in Haiti. Agroforestry Systems 61: 383–397


Additional Sources

[21] Johnson Williams, V. 2011. A Case Study of Desertification in Haiti. Journal of Sustainable Development 4: 20-31

[22] Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Ressources Naturelles et du Développement Rural. 2010. Evaluation des Ressources Forestières Mondiales 2010 Rapport National Haïti

[23] Evaluation des ressources forestières mondiales 2020 Rapport Haïti

[24] Wuepper, D., Borrelli, P., & Finger, R. 2019. Countries and the global rate of soil erosion. Nat Sustain 3, 51–55