by Daniel Schnitzer
It is estimated that Haiti is now left with less than half of its wood stock relative to 1982. If the status quo with respect to the state of energy use is maintained, it is not unreasonable to forecast the complete depletion of that resource in the very near future. Not many groups of people have successfully destroyed an entire resource, particularly one as valuable as trees, but it’s happened before, as recounted in my previous post on Easter Island.
While the cultures of Haiti and Easter Island are obviously different in many ways, the reasons for their environmental crises are strikingly similar. Both shared unsustainable agriculture and a devotion to wood as the chosen resource for a commonplace ritual – be it transporting stone statues or cooking meals.
Haiti must reduce its appetite for charcoal, which is currently used in ninety percent of households. This can be achieved by either switching to more efficient stoves, or by switching to stoves fueled by alternatives to wood charcoal.
The tragedy of these circumstances is that such stoves are inexpensive and are even being manufactured in small quantities by non- and for-profit ventures around the country. I have personally seen or used no fewer than five locally produced efficient or alternative fuel stove designs.
One of my favorites is made by a business owned by four brothers in Port-au-Prince. My affinity for their business extends past their mission and stove design. What I am most enthused about is their business model, which contrasts sharply with the way clean stove dissemination has been practiced in Haiti. Many NGOs and institutional programs have tried to increase the penetration of clean stoves through hyper-local micro-manufacturing. These programs do not have a good track record for sustainability. They collapse because they lack both the incentives and the resources to grow. To encourage adoption of clean stoves, we should adop business models engineered for success, not failure. Few manufacturers sell directly to the end-users of their products. Instead, they centralize their production facilities to achieve economies of scale and sell in bulk to distributors. This is precisely the approach being taken by the manufacturer in Port-au-Prince, and the one EarthSpark seeks to encourage by providing them with distribution channels.
Check out pictures of efficient stove manufacturing in Port-au-Prince.