In 1973, Peace Corps DR and the Dominican Agrarian Institute (IAD) initiated the Frontier Development Program, established the Estacion Experimental Rio Limpio, and introduced organic agriculture and conservation farming as an alternative to the slash-and-burn practices of the region's farmers.
The PCV's of the Frontier Development Program, demonstrated and taught organic farming and soil conservation in the region's remote settlements. In the process, these PCV's made organic agriculture widely known and appreciated by farmers, agronomists, rural development groups, and government officials throughout the DR.
In 1982, Estacion Experimental Rio Limpio was reorganized as a non-profit foundation and renamed Centro Regional Estudios de Alternativas Rurales (CREAR). In the following years CREAR established the DR's first agro-ecological vocational-technical steepland farming school with full scholarships for sons and daughters of the poorest farmers. Many CREAR graduates have since taken up careers as conservation technicians, field instructors, and organic farming specialists, while generations of PCV's trained at CREAR, continued to teach organic farming, intenive gardening, and soil-conservation, providing training to many hundreds of small farmers throughout the country.
Today organic agriculture counts for 20% of the DR's agricultural exports. The DR has more than 8500 certified organic farmers including 790 producers of organic bananas, 6742 producers of organic cacao, and 899 of organic coffee, and also produces organic coconuts, lemons, mangos, avocadoes, ginger, aloe vera, noni, and other products. This year, more than 100,000 tons of organic bananas, cacao and mango have already been exported to Europe, United States and Asia producing earnings of US $70,000,000.
In February of 2005, CREAR was confronted by a drastic cut in government funding to CREAR (for faculty and staff salaries from RD $70,000 monthly to RD $7200 monthly). With the school unable to pay its faculty and staff, it was forced to suspend student registration and all school operations, including maintenance of the school's quarter-century old training, research and demonstration campus with its watershed, conservation-farming system, bench terraces, and intensive bio-dynamic gardens.
The 45th anniversary of Peace Corps in the DR is also the 35th anniversary of Peace Corps' introduction of organic farming in the DR. Although Organic Agriculture is now an important and growing sector of the Dominican economy small farmer participation in the organic production sector is greatly limited by the lack of field technicians and field instructors needed to transfer conservation farming technology to great number of small farmers farming the critical watersheds of the nation.
In this time of economic crisis for CREAR, and in this time of environmental crisis in the DR, it is hoped that FDR and PC/DR will support the reopening of CREAR's school of conservation farming and watershed conservation through a renewal of the historic collaboration between PC, DR government, and community-based efforts to improve rural education and the rural economy, and restore and conserve the nation's vital topsoils and watersheds in the process.
Submitted by Mark Feedman, 12/10/2006