Deforestation in Haiti: Weaning a Country off of Wood Fuels

By Bryan Schaaf on Saturday, February 16, 2008.

Attached is an assessment carried out by the World Bank's Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (EMAP) on Haiti's reliance on wood based charcoal for its energy needs - estimated to be about 70% of total energy usage.   Having read the assessment, I feel it raises some sensible interventions even if they do not go far enough.  However, the strategy could provide a foundation upon which to build.

Haiti's environmental damage is severe, and if it cannot be reversed, it will continue to negative effect the country's health, wealth, and stability.  There are a wide variety of choices, but all will require strong coordination between the Haitian government and civil society, donors, and international organizations.   If we can all agree on these points, we can skip ahead to the hard part.  What should be done, by who, and how?  Let's start with what EMAP proposes. The five components of the strategy they are advocating for are below:



Set up an institutional mechanism to coordinate this strategy.  The overarching goals of the mechanism should focus on improved land management by farmers, more efficient use of woodfuels, producing more efficient stoves, importing substitution fuels, and importing or manufacturing equipment needed for producing substitution fuels.  This mechanism must include members of the Haitian government and (gasp) the Diaspora, international organizations, donors, and civil society.  We throw the word around a lot, who do we mean when we talk about civil society?  That includes religious groups, the Red Cross, the Rotary Clubs, community organizations large and small, and even political parties.  Reforesting the country should be something that, regardless of political beliefs, we all can agree is needed.



Reducing wood fuel demand by promoting more efficient stoves:  This component focuses on making available more efficient "Mirak" style stoves to 80% of Port au Prince households, training artisans to produce them.  This component does not address the root causes of wood fuel usage, but it does curb the damage to a certain extent.



Promote alternative fuel imports: This would include Liquified Petroleum Gas, Kerosene, and Coal.   The Dominican Republic may be a model here in that they have long subsidized propane.  Granted, Haitians have less purchasing power than Dominicans so the subsidies would have to be higher, but it could be part of a solution.  We recommend pilot programs that could be scaled up with donor support once proven effective.



Foster local options to substitute charcoal and firewood:  This would include using agricultural waste to produce briquettes.  I've seen this done successfully in small communities but never really brought up to scale.  Converting waste to fuel makes good economic and environmental sense.  We've found that people are reluctant to adopt new innovations such as this until the opinion leaders in the community have - if working on such a project, get the buy in of local leaders first. 



Boosting supply:  This component focuses on integrating firewood into rural development programs and developing ways to make it sustainable through improved forestry management.


The cost of the strategy is estimated to be about 20 million dollars over the course of five years, half of which could be provided by the private sector.  It is estimated charcoal production would decrease by 20% over ten years.  Sadly, the report notes that consumption is likely to increase again in 11 or 12 years as a result of demographic growth.  This suggests the need for action beyond what this strategy is proposing.



Don't get me wrong.  All of the proposed interventions are interesting and would makea  dent in charcoal consumption.  But at this late stage, making a dent does not suffice.  Perhaps more so than any other country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti needs innovative approaches.  We agree with the interventions proposed but disagree with the lack of a sense of urgency and willigness to think outside the box.



Environmental rehabilitation must be linked to livelihoods.  We propose the immediate funding of an environmentally oriented Civilian Conservation Corps, to be piloted in each Department through a public/private partnership and then scaled up accordingly.   Part of the Corps must be consist of rangers who patrol and protect the few remaining forested areas.  As charcoal becomes more rare, it is worth more.  Sadly, trying to prevent people from cutting down trees may put a person at risk - as conversationists try to protect the environment, they must be protected themselves.




In order to help Haiti become energy secure, an array of interventions are needed.  For now, subsidizing propane would be a big help.  We propose the rapid expansion of solar and wind power, solar for facilities and wind in rural areas.  The initial investment may be expensive, but the sun and wind are free.  A further advantage of wind power, is that it would be exceedingly difficult and counter-productive to steal a windmill.   Solar panels, if not bolted down very well, have a tendency to go missing.  Thieves took the panels off of our Teleco in Thomonde and they had to be replaced.  In the meantime, no phone calls.



Alternate energy sources can't be brought to scale overrnight.  Until then, electification of Haiti and especially its urban areas is key.  Buying electricity from the Dominican Republic is an imperfect, but practical, solution in the meantime.   Haiti is not an ideal country for hydroenergy.  The Pelligre Dam can be modernized somewhat, but this will only go so far.






Haiti could be the first country in the Western Hemisphere to really commit to biofuels.  We would not be the first in the world - we could learn from what has been accomplished in the Phillipines and India.   Study tours and exchanges of staff from the relevant ministries should not be hard to arrange. Being the first in the Western Hemisphere to systematically and seriously cultivate and process Jatropha would be a real accomplishment.




There are any number of interventions, each of which has risks and benefits.  The hard part is developing a right balance between what will help a little bit now and what could help a great deal in the long term.  As a recent article in the International Herald Tribune notes, Haiti's future will be grim indeed if deforestation is not addresses.  Ethiopia and Uganda have begun to do so - we can too.  


The assessment is attached below. If you were a consultant on the EMAP team, would you have suggested a similar strategy or something vastly different?   We would be interested in hearing your thoughts and ideas.




620200775512_Haiti_English_Woodfuel_Resources_112-07.pdf512.04 KB

Clinton, Branson Lend Helping Hand to Haiti Forest Initiative

by Allyson Koerner
Two very powerful and eco-friendly men are embarking on a new journey and taking their resources to an entirely new level. Former President Bill Clinton and Richard Branson have joined forces in helping the Haiti Forest Initiative. Last Sunday, Clinton, Branson and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, announced their new social and environmental goal. The Haiti Forest Initiative’s mission is to solve social and environmental problems throughout Haiti. It aims to do just that by bringing sustainable, productive and socially responsible forests to the country. “I am pleased that my Foundation is working with Yunus Social Business and Virgin Unite,” Clinton said. “Through this partnership, we hope to create a replicable model for programs that demonstrate long-term, positive social and environmental impact as well as economic benefits across Haiti.” The project will not only bring forests to Haiti – the country lost most of its forests over the last half-century – it will provide affordable food, timber and most importantly employment for residents. The initiative wishes to accomplish four main goals including the re-forestation of Haiti; providing sustainable livelihoods to farmers; helping mitigate Haiti’s dependency on food imports; and identifying alternative fuel sources to reduce usage of charcoal. “This project will create much-needed economic opportunities for many and is wonderful way to do something good for our planet and the people of Haiti,” Branson said.

Timeberland Helps Reforestation Effort in Haiti (1/30/2013)

Mother Jones
By Melissa Hincha-Ownby
In the three years since a massive 7.0-magnatude earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti, Timberland has helped plant 2.2 million trees in the rural area surrounding Gonaives. Timberland partnered with Smallholder Farmers Alliance, a local non-governmental organization (NGO), to meet its commitment of helping plant 5 million trees in a five-year period. An additional 1 million trees will be planted this year as well as in 2014 and 2015. The project will help improve the environmental, economic and social conditions in the Gonaives region. Timberland and Smallholder Farmers Alliance are helping local farmers learn how to improve crop yields, develop eight community tree nurseries and support agricultural training centers in the region. "When this program began, our vision was to create a model that could be self-financing within a reasonable amount of time and would generate positive social, environmental and economic impact,” says Margaret Morey-Reuner, Timberland’s senior manager of values marketing. “The great results so far are a testament to the camaraderie, hard work and independence of these farmers as well as to this private sector, NGO and community stakeholder collaboration.” Launching a program with the eventual goal of self-financing is what is setting this partnership apart from many other programs that sprung up in post-quake Haiti. One charity that faced public scrutiny was Yele, founded by hip-hop superstar Wyclef Jean. Yele was founded years before the devastating earthquake but in the weeks following the earthquake, Yele raised $16 million in funding. Considering the Haitian economy, $16 million could certainly go a long way, right? Wrong – subsequent reports reveal that $9 million went to salaries and other expenses. Comparing Yele, which has since closed its doors, to the Timberland and Smallholder Farmers Alliance partnership is like comparing apples to oranges. Sure, both programs started with altruistic intentions, but the built-in goal of self-financing helped the Timberland alliance stay on track, and that will help ensure the long-term success of the project.

Are These Solutions Truly Viable?

I don't mean to troll, but this article's solutions seem utterly unrealistic. Haiti's deforestation issues lie well beyond the scope of alternative technologies and civilian education. The country's deforestation is inextricably intertwined with politically structured poverty. Haitian chop trees because they can afford nothing else. They can afford nothing else because local corruption and international neo-liberalists (notably, the US and the UN)enforce policies that favor the country's wealthy minority rather than its common man. Money pumped into the economy by the international community has not--and would not--reached the poor. Consequently, more fundamental, structural changes are necessary. If you're interested in some quality reading, check out Hallward's "Damning the Flood" or Tracy Kidders' "Mountains beyond Mountains." Otherwise, some google sources on international involvement in Haiti should prove informative.


All of the above proposals are valid for reducing deforestation. However the situation is so bad that proactive solutions are needed. Haiti needs to plant trees on a massive scale to prevent
Falling water tables,
Declining water quality,
Water and wind erosion, and
Deposition of mud on agricultural areas.
I don't know if Ten Million trees would be enough, but it is probably the minimum.
Follow the example of Israel. The Jewish National Fund collects donations from the Diaspora, and has used it to rehabilitate the land. At the same time providing employment to unskilled laborers.
Additional technologies that might substitute for charcoal are Solar Ovens and BioGas Digesters, fueled by livestock manure. The BioGas Digester produces methane, and can also be adapted to produce electrical or mechanical power.
Solar and wind power options would not provide much employment for the impoverished population. The equiptment would be imported and the technicians are likely not to be found indigenous.
Haitians don't realize how serious deforestation is.
It destroys agricultural land, fouls the rivers, and takes away building material for homes and boats. I mean, if they keep this up, they will be living in mud huts and unable even to fish or garden. A recipe for self-inflicted genocide.


The absolute first necessary step in the chabon problem is forbidding the transport of commercial chabon to la Ville. Truckloads of back country charcoal are brought into Port every day. Driving the back roads around Jeremie reveals sacks of charcoal at every turn in the road, awaiting the buyers.

This requires the government to do it's job. Make it illegal to transport charcoal on the highway. I was told that in the bad old days of Duvalier a permit was required to cut down a tree. Course, they had health inspectors then too.

I bought my mother in law a 'gaz bip' propane stove. It is a lot cheaper than charcoal today. Buying the tanks is the only thing needing subsidy.

I demonstrated to her that charcoal costs twice as much per day as the propane. The problem is, she has to put aside 5 gourdes each day to be able to pay for the refill, which she doesn't do. Then, when it runs out she pays 10 gourdes a day for charcoal.

Pump money into the economy

Pump money into the economy somehow. Maybe by setting up programs for donations. The UN could assist with that. Finding alternative fuel sources is key. Without alternative sources, Haitians will continue to cut down trees for their own survival. Its a tough situation.


why are there so many trobles dealing with defoestation? i mean that im only 12 years old and i still know there is no right people have to do this. that is wrong and mean.its like taking away our oxagen and that also means to some people who love the forest its like taking away their own home i sure hope you agree with me and if you could find some clubs for me to help deforestation thanks for reading my concernimg comment

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