Half-hidden amid a tangle of cassava plants, Louis Wilkine scrabbles in the muddy soil and hoists a huge clump of roots over his head. This new variety of cassava, a staple food crop in Haiti, could triple the yield for farmers in the Les Anglais watershed.

Skeptics at first, he and his neighbors hope to persuade other farmers to use the new variety, increasing their earnings and reducing the amount of land they need to clear for planting. That is crucial here, where deforestation exacerbates flooding and erosion during torrential downpours.

One group of farmers planting high-yield cassava may seem like less than a finger in the dike of environmental disaster. But scientists say sustainable community projects aimed at improving rural livelihoods are the best way to turn the tide of this island’s ecological destruction.