Introduction: Relief or Development—or Both?

The need for targeted energy interventions during relief efforts, especially for cooking but also for other household needs such as lighting and refrigeration, is becoming both more critical and more apparent. Nevertheless, supplying energy to people in crisis has frequently been neglected in relief efforts and distressed populations have been left to fend for themselves. Cooking energy is almost always their largest energy need. Where cooking energy has been provided, it has not necessarily been within the context of sustainability or what will happen after. Consideration is needed regarding what can be sustained by local populations after emergency aid ends. Helping subject populations to develop the capacity to produce liquid biofuels on a small scale with efficient agriculture may offer one important solution.

Few examples of emergency relief efforts exist where long term development needs have been considered. The attempt to provide relief in a way that contributes to long term development objectives may be challenging for a number of reasons—especially in the midst of crisis—but the need to design emergency interventions that lay the foundation for longer term solutions is increasingly important as human environments degrade and life becomes harder to sustain, with or without crises. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than with the local supply and use of energy for household needs in the period of recovery following natural disasters.

Cooking energy is an often overlooked issue in relief and recovery. Energy for cooking usually constitutes 70% to 90% of total energy use in Least Developed Countries (ESMAP 2007). In Africa, it is responsible for over 90% of the woody biomass harvested (PROBEC 2006). While slash and burn agriculture has been an important cause of deforestation, today the demand for cooking fuels, especially in urban areas, is advancing deforestation hundreds of kilometres from the nearest city. Many of the poorest countries are severely deforested, at rates approaching 95% and even 98% (ESMAP 2007). Deforestation brings with it other environmental problems—erosion, sedimentation, floods, mud slides, decline in ground water supply and local climate change. When disasters hit and emergency intervention is required, the reliance on standard or traditional practices can increase the vulnerability of populations and set back remediation. The way in which food aid has traditionally been provided is a case in point (CHRGY 2010). The same is so for energy aid. This is why emergency interventions must now consider issues of economic and environmental sustainability—what will cause the least impact on a fragile, already degraded environment, what will help to restore that environment when aid is provided, and what will help to create or rebuild local markets that can carry on after the crisis is over.

The earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010 claimed the lives of 222,570 people and displaced 2.3 million (MINUSTAH 2010). The theme of emergency relief efforts, put into place by the Clinton Foundation and the United Nations (UN) is to “Build Back Better.” Such a theme compellingly joins the ideas of emergency relief and long term development as compatible goals—indeed as goals conjoined of necessity. The relief and development efforts that now confront Haiti are how to build back better. These should address Haiti’s household energy crisis, made worse by the social and economic disarray after the earthquake, but which existed before the earthquake and is shown in Haiti’s almost complete state of deforestation even as its reliance on woodfuels (charcoal and fuelwood) for cooking steadily increases (See Fig 1).

Figure 1: Wood Fuel (UN)

An assessment conducted by the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) in Haiti in March 2010, just two months after the earthquake, found that the price of charcoal has risen by 40% (WRC and WFP 2010). The large increase in price was the result of interruption in normal supply lines compounded by the inelasticity of supply, given the high deforestation (over 98%), and the need to import charcoal from the Dominican Republic (Groneworld 2009). As they have become more impoverished, Haitians have come to rely increasingly on charcoal and fuelwood as their primary energy source for cooking. Since over 70% of Haiti’s total energy demand is for cooking fuel, and since existing sources of fuel cannot meet demand, a new energy strategy is essential as relief efforts begin to address the immediate needs for cooking in the post-earthquake displaced communities.

Using Relief to Spur Development

The search for alternatives to petroleum fuels and to solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, coal, dung and residues, through the use of the simple alcohols, particularly bioethanol, has been central to Project Gaia’s work in Ethiopia’s refugee camps (See Table 1). Early in its efforts in Ethiopia, Project Gaia, a development organisation promoting simple alcohols for household energy, demonstrated an ethanol stove sourced from Sweden (Electrolux, now Dometic) that could create a market for ethanol manufactured in Ethiopia’s first industrial distillery, the Finchaa Sugar Factory. Project Gaia provided ethanol stoves for the refugee camps under the supervision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) using stoves purchased by donors and ethanol fuel, also purchased by donors, from the Finchaa Sugar Factory. It was assisted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in this effort. Pilot studies were conducted in Shimelba Camp (Tigray), Bonga Camp (Gambella) and Kebrebeyah Camp (Somali Regional State) with favourable results (Amare et. al 2006). After a successful scale-up in the Kebrebeyah Camp, a decision was made, in 2007, to provide stoves in two neighbouring camps, Awbarre (Teferi Ber) and Sheder camps (Hassen 2006).

Table 1: Fuel Evaluation Grid (UNHCR & Project Gaia))

While Project Gaia has been cooperating with the UNHCR and the IRC in the refugee camps, it has also been endeavouring to stimulate a commercial ethanol stove and fuel project in Addis Ababa under local ownership by an SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) partner. The key benefit that the commercial project provides to the donor driven refugee relief project is the creation of local capacity to make ethanol stoves, which would enable donors to acquire them locally for the camps. The key benefit that the ‘refugee relief’ project provides for the commercial project is a market for the locally built stoves. The local SME that will produce the stoves will sell them not only to individual consumers but also to institutional buyers such as the UNHCR, which could purchase in large numbers.

An early participant in this work (2006) was the IRC, which embraced the stoves because of their cleanliness, operational safety and energy efficiency. The IRC funded a number of stoves in the Kebrebeyah Camp as well as some of the supporting infrastructure—jerry cans, tanks, tent storage for the barrels of fuel and small equipment. Project Gaia’s partnership with the IRC proved to be mutually complementary with the IRC sharing with Project Gaia its know-how in providing multifaceted relief.

Why Cooking Energy is Critical

Nearly 80 million people were displaced by conflict and natural disasters between 2008 and 2009. According to UNHCR’s 2009 annual report, 43 million people around the world were uprooted by conflict (UNHCR 2010). Of these, a little over half, or 26 million, received assistance from the UNHCR. Some 36 million people were displaced by natural disasters, with climate-related disasters displacing over half of this number (IDMC 2009).

Those who are fortunate enough to find shelter in organised camps, supported by the UN or private donors, may be provided with food, but are less likely to be provided with the fuel to cook it. Displaced people sheltering in informal camps usually do not fare this well. They have the double problem of food and fuel. In situations where woody biofuels are scarce and should not or cannot be gathered, the lack of other options has potential large consequences not only for the displaced community but also for the host community.

For women living in areas of conflict and crisis, several protection risks directly impinge on their ability to secure their daily household needs. The UN Refugee Agency has identified the major risks related to firewood collection to be arrest and refoulement. In addition to sexual and gender based violence, refugees who venture out of camps jeopardise their chances for voluntary return by the authorities who detain them. For instance, in Bangladesh many refugees were arrested for collecting firewood from private land and in Ethiopia residents were officially forbidden to leave their camp in search of firewood, even though there was no cooking fuel in the camp (Dorp 2009).

In regard to the risks of sexual and gender violence, the effects on women and children can be devastating. Throughout most of the world, women and girls often bear the burden of cooking and firewood collection, thus many of the dangers are disproportionately placed on women and girls. The physical risks of lugging firewood and of violent attack are compounded by psychological stresses resulting from the burden of work just to survive and the exposure to traumatising events. Acute depression and posttraumatic stress can dramatically affect primary caregivers, with severe consequences for communities already in crisis (Amare et. al 2006).

Displaced Communities and the Environment

High numbers of displaced persons aggregating into concentrated clusters as refugees or internally displaced persons place an immense strain on local resources. In accounts from around the world, a commonality exists: the decimation of the local environment around these clusters, camps or settlements (Shepherd 1995). The degradation of the local environment near such clusters is well documented. As a case in point, between 1994 and 1996 a total of 570 square kilometres of forest in Tanzania was affected by Rwandan refugees, of which 167 square kilometres were severely deforested (UDS 2003).

Rising rates of deforestation around camps increase the area through which women must travel to find wood. In some cases, women must travel many kilometres, subjecting themselves to potential reprisals from landowners, assault and rape, and even attacks from wild animals. As menacing as such dangers might seem, yet, displaced women are compelled to venture into these dangerous circumstances every day so that they can cook for their families, that their families might survive (Beyond Firewood 2006).

High levels of deforestation render camps vulnerable to floods and mudslides. These dangers are not limited to refugee camps. Throughout much of the world, the poor have been pushed onto floodplains, steep hillsides and other marginal lands unclaimed and unsettled by others. As a consequence, low income peoples around the world are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, whether droughts, floods or earthquakes (Pilon 2004). This is directly related to where they live. Steep hillsides in Port-au-Prince, exemplified by the Gran Ravin and Martissant neighbourhoods, were settled by impoverished rural migrants. These neighbourhoods were devastated by the earthquake. In Tegucigalpa, Honduras, mudslides occurred during the heavy rains of Hurricane Mitch, disproportionately affecting the poorest residents of the city (Pilon 2004). With increasing demands for woody biomass for cooking, trees and even the bushy vegetation that stabilise hillsides and soils quickly disappear.

In addition to mudslides and other disasters, soil laid bare and subjected to wind and water erosion leaves poor and packed substrate that cannot be cultivated. Haiti is especially prone to wind erosion on cut-over slopes because of its exposure to wind and rain storms (Brown 2006). With increasing amounts of infertile land, competition for arable land intensifies, and conflict between host communities and informal or temporary communities becomes commonplace. This inevitably results in worsening conditions for refugees and other displaced people. Refugees in particular may find themselves interned in their camps, prevented from leaving, even though they may lack basic necessities for survival.

Food rations coming into refugee camps are usually cost effective non-perishable items such as beans, rice and pasta that need to be cooked. To curb deforestation, protect the environment around the camp and forestall future calamities (such as mudslide and floods), cooking energy must be delivered with the food. Since this cooking energy will also be an issue later on, particularly if the community is not disbanded, as is so often the case, it should be chosen with consideration for how energy can be provided in the future.

Why Bioethanol Instead of Woody Biomass

A number of solid fuel stoves have been proposed for Haiti, including stoves that burn wood, charcoal, paper trash (“trash briquettes”) and agri-residues such as rice hulls (see @HEDON for more details). These stoves offer improvement because they can cook more with less, using their fuel more efficiently so that it will go further (Bioenergylists 2010). This solution, however, may be limited in the following ways:

  1. Solid fuel stoves, especially those relying on wood and charcoal, are still consuming scarce woodfuels, not providing an alternative to them
  2. The efficiency gains may be significant relative to the baseline but not necessarily significant overall (e.g., an improved stove may double the efficiency of a traditional stove but still operate at a low efficiency)
  3. Improved solid fuel stoves are often very smoky, sometimes producing more air pollution than the traditional stoves they are meant to replace (MacCarty 2010).

In contrast, bioethanol is a clean fuel. Its combustion produces no smoke or particulates and very low carbon monoxide (MacCarty 2009). Bioethanol is easy to burn because of its volatility (moves readily from liquid to gaseous state, which promotes good combustion) and generally bioethanol stoves operate at relatively high efficiencies, similar to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) stoves (MacCarty 2010).

From an economic and an environmental point of view, bioethanol also offers advantages. It allows a switch from reliance on woody biomass, trees and bushes, to reliance on agricultural crops. Trees, whether planted or wild, take time to grow. Fast growing trees may have a coppice rotation of three to five years, while whole tree harvesting generally requires a 30-year investment. Trees are harvested continuously because of the high demand for fuel. If this rate of harvest exceeds replacement growth, the biomass is not renewed. Unlike woody biomass, agricultural crops grow quickly and can be harvested one to several times per year. This provides both economic and environmental benefits. People living at or near subsistence need quick returns and cannot afford to invest years waiting for a crop to bring benefit. Agricultural crops return their inputs quickly, paying the dividends that their rapid growth has yielded. Well chosen agricultural crops grow quickly, withstand poor soils, unpredictable rains, and provide exactly what is needed, such as sugar or starch for fermentation to ethanol.

Woody crops are generally not as fast-growing as certain agricultural crops, especially the so-called C4 crops (see @ HEDON below) that add biomass more efficiently than other plants (Blume 2007). Examples of these are sugarcane and sweet sorghum (National Research Council 1996). These plants produce biomass rapidly, both above and below ground, and transfer high amounts of sugars (carbohydrates—e.g. carbon) into the soil, leaving this carbon behind when they are harvested, in addition to what is left with their roots. The roots help to hold the soil, populate it with microorganisms and make it productive for the next crop. Both sweet sorghum and sugarcane grow extensive roots that go deep and place a lot of organic matter into the soil (National Research Council 1996).

If the harvested portion of the plant, the stalk, leaves and seed head (in the case of sweet sorghum) is efficiently processed to the desired end uses, one of these being ethanol for stove fuel, then the agricultural crop has produced value in a short period of time, paid dividends from the energy provided by the sun, and provided not only economic returns, but environmental and health returns as well, including a clean fuel for cooking.

Can Relief Spur Development in Haiti?

Shortly after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, it became apparent that a cooking energy crisis was in the making despite an enormous and effective relief effort that had been mounted (WRC/WFP 2010). Even as immediate rescue operations were underway, airlifted food, tents and tarps and water had been supplied. In response to this relief effort, Project Gaia considered sending ethanol stoves to Haiti. Haiti had already been identified as a priority country for Project Gaia, because of its very high level of deforestation and its prominence as a sugarcane producer. The earthquake, however, made it necessary for Project Gaia to move Haiti up on its priority list and to move swiftly to commit stoves to Haiti.

Some months prior to the earthquake, the Division for New and Renewable Energy Resources in the Energy Office of the Brazilian Government’s Ministry of External Relations (Ministério das Relações Exteriores, Divisão de Recursos Energéticos Novos e Renováveis) had indicated its interest to Project Gaia to assist with a stove and ethanol fuel pilot project in Haiti. With the urgency of the earthquake recovery effort, the time seemed ripe for action.

Based upon its experience in Ethiopia, Project Gaia asked itself the following questions to evaluate whether or not it should begin the project in Haiti:
  • When would be the right time to begin?
  • What should be the immediate objective?
  • Where would the ethanol fuel come from?
  • Would it be sustainable and for how long?
  • What other organisations could Project Gaia join with to make a stronger project?
  • Apart from the clients served and their hosts, who would assist with the project and would they be willing to provide resources?
  • How would the emergency intervention transition to recovery?
  • Would our intervention be useful and appropriate, given all of the other problems facing the Haitian people and their government?
  • What would be the barriers to success—what could go wrong?

a. When would be the right time to begin—and what would be the immediate objective?

We determined that the right time to begin would be after search and rescue efforts were over and people were being settled into camps. This was confirmed to us by early reports, within 30 days following the earthquake, that residents in the new tent camps were having difficulty obtaining cooking fuel and affording to buy it (WRC/WFP 2010). It was reported by a team composed of representatives of the Women’s Refugee Commission and the World Food Program that charcoal had increased in price above pre-earthquake prices and that other fuels were less available. The Safe Access to Firewood and Alternative Energy (SAFE) Report team found that those who could afford to buy fuel were paying about half of their daily income purchasing it (WRC/WFP 2010).

We determined that our immediate objective should be to provide as many ethanol stoves as possible with ethanol fuel into several managed camps where people, particularly families with children, could benefit and the intervention could be monitored, shown to others and reported on. Our primary objective would be to first serve women-head-of-households and women/families with special needs, where the women might be facing exceptional challenges in cooking for and feeding their families. We would have to work in camps that had good local management, because we could not provide the daily and weekly follow-up support to these families by ourselves.

Having determined our timeline and immediate objective, we found that we could not move as fast as we desired, given the amount of work that was required to identify partners, communicate, create plans, and identify project sites. Our scoping trip did not occur until 5 months after the earthquake but when it finally took place it was successful because it has been well-prepared for. It laid the groundwork for partnerships, spelled out in a multi-party memorandum summarising each partner’s role and how it should relate to the other partners. This team is a mix of local interests including a small business, Haitian-American organisations, and international participants, including two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) leading the technology introduction and pilot studies (the IRC and Project Gaia) and an international business willing to share its stove technology (the Dometic Group).

As of this writing the first container-load of stoves is still waiting to be shipped, due in large part to the bureaucratic obstacles raised within just a few months after the earthquake by a government overwhelmed with challenges. Yet the stoves could clearly have been useful within weeks after the earthquake, and could have been scaled up in numbers as people became more settled and organised in their emergency housing arrangements.

We felt confident in selecting to serve communities that were housed in tent cities, as this setting is not very different from what we are familiar with in the refugee camps where we work in Ethiopia. The shelters are small, made of plastic tarps, cardboard, fabric and other flammable materials and are close together.

Although ethanol is a volatile fuel that can be dangerous if not containerised properly, once in the CleanCook stove it is very safe, as the stove is not pressurised and is spill-proof. We have been fortunate in the refugee camps not to have had a single accident with the CleanCook stove during three years of operation, over approximately 1.5 million experience-days. (This is an average of 1370 stoves in use over the three-year period. The actual number of stoves in use varied during the camp scale-ups, growing steadily in number as the scale-up progressed) (See Table 2).

Table 2: Stove Evaluation Grid (UNHCR & Project Gaia)

Because of the safety benefits offered by the stove, we decided, at least to begin with, that all fuel would be distributed already in the stove’s fuel canister and that families would turn in their empty canister for a full one in order to replenish their fuel supply. This would result in a fuel transaction with each family once per day or once every other day. Although this would create more work than distributing a week’s supply of ethanol at a time, we determined that this would be the safest way to begin.

b. Where would the ethanol come from? 

We contacted the Energy Office in the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations (MRE) and found that the MRE was willing to assist in sourcing a donation of ethanol to start with, which could be shipped to Haiti as soon as we could receive it and transport it safely to the relief sites. The MRE contacted the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association UNICA (União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar) and they in turn approached a private company, COSAN, to provide the ethanol. It would be denatured for us, placed in 200 litre plastic barrels, and made ready for shipping. The initial timeline was to have it ready to ship to Haiti by February 2010, in time for President Lula’s visit to Haiti at the end of the month, but unfortunately we were not ready to receive it. The MRE was reluctant to ship the ethanol without appropriate controls in place to assure safety, and we were unable to provide this. We decided that we would have to defer on the MRE’s show of support until we were fully prepared to hold up our end of the bargain.

The purpose of this ethanol was to support the relief efforts and to give us time to develop an ongoing supply of ethanol, either through import or through local production, or a combination of both.

c. Would the supply of ethanol be sustainable? Where would the supply come from after donations were at an end? 

This was the key question that we asked during our economic and resource analysis and the reason why we were so interested in Haiti in the first place. Not only was Haiti once a leading sugar producer and a distiller of beverage ethanol for export, but also Haiti exists on trade routes over which billions of litres of ethanol flow each year on their way to a growing fuel market in the United States. This ethanol, mostly from Brazil, generally the most competitively priced in the market, could be a source of cooking fuel for Haiti—cheaper than kerosene and LPG—as Haiti built up its own local production (See Figure 2).

Figure 2: U.S. Gulf Coast Kerosene-Type Jet Fuel Spot Price

Twenty-nine years ago, Haiti harvested 80,000 hectares of sugarcane to support its sugar industry and worldwide sugar trade—its historic export commodity. Today, Haiti harvests less than 17,000 hectares of cane, with much of the traditional cane land now unused or only marginally productive. (See Figure 3). The decline in sugar production reflects a general, across-the-board decline in Haiti’s agriculture, as cheap, imported foodstuffs have weakened Haitian agriculture and undercut local food production. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is widely viewed as having been harmful to Haitian agriculture, even by President Clinton himself (Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch 2010). Today, Haiti not only imports sugar for its domestic needs, but also rice, pulses, eggs and poultry and other staples that it had always produced for itself.

Figure 3: Decline in Sugarcane Production (UNData World Statistics Pocketbook))

Were Haiti to return to its 1981-82 sugarcane production, it could produce, using typical modern conversion rates, a whopping 300 million litres of ethanol per year over and above what it produces now (assuming an annual yield rate per hectare of 6400 litres). Taking a daily consumption rate of one litre per family, this would provide cooking for more than 800,000 families—most of Haiti’s population. The sugarcane harvested and processed today goes for small scale Clairin production, with some to higher quality rum for export (177,000 litres in 1997, down from highs above 400,000 in 1991) (UNData 2010). These are very small markets that cannot support a return to scale in sugarcane agriculture. Since Haiti can probably no longer compete in the global sugar or rum trades, new markets will have to be found to enable a return to past production levels. Local energy markets could serve this purpose.

The daily buying and selling of cooking fuels is probably Haiti’s second largest cash market after food (Anglade 2009). Some 7,000 tons of charcoal were estimated to come into Port-au-Prince for sale in 2007 (ESMAP 2007). Using values from the SAFE report, this charcoal could have a retail value of 250m US$ annually. The Bureau of Mines and Energy estimated the value of the Haitian charcoal business at 150m US$ in 2008, with a volume of 380,000 tons per year. This values charcoal at about 0.40 US$ per kg. Most charcoal is bought and sold on the street.

Thus it was our conclusion that Haitian agriculture, if returned to its former strength, could support a large fuel ethanol industry. In the meantime, ethanol from Brazil could start the local stove market and gain time for small farmers and distillers to build their local production capacity. Since Haiti had been much more successful in feeding itself in years past, its food production peaking with its sugarcane production, we believed the issue of food vs. fuel could be effectively addressed—based on Haiti’s own experience (see Figure 4). The decline in Haitian agriculture, with the drop in food production and competitiveness, is now understood to be an issue primarily of markets—the need of farmers to be able to sell what they grow, whether for food or energy, to earn the cash they need for replanting next year (Georges 2010). The clash between local production and regional trade, perhaps along with a certain amount of food dumping, had undermined Haiti’s competitiveness as a food producer, not competing crops pushing arable land out of food production (Georges 2004).

Figure 4: Correlation of Peak Sugarcane and Rice Production (UNData 2010)

d. Who could Project Gaia join with to make a stronger team with more capabilities? 

Because of Project Gaia’s work with the IRC in refugee camps in Ethiopia, and because the IRC is deeply engaged in Haiti, it made sense for Project Gaia to approach the IRC to work with them in Haiti also. The IRC is taking a distinctly development-oriented approach in Haiti, looking for ways not only to provide relief but also to stimulate the development of enterprise and the creation of livelihoods. The IRC is also interested in liquid biofuels as a distributed, energy supply strategy for household that can be sustained, and one which will provide employment. As a result, the shared interests and IRC’s approach made IRC and Project Gaia a good fit for collaboration.

The IRC’s economic recovery approach in post-disaster and post-conflict settings recognises that the well-being of those affected is closely linked to their ability to engage with the market to stabilising their lives through jobs and income. This approach works not only to create direct support for disaster/conflict-affected peoples, but also to create opportunity for those economic actors that are able to generate jobs and invest capital, be they producers, processors, wholesalers, retail traders and others.

This approach works best when market actors are empowered to take small, incremental, and thus achievable steps to enable them to improve their processes, products and services. Thus, Project Gaia has identified the Dometic Group as a potential stove manufacturer in Haiti. The Dometic Group will share the stove technology with a local machine shop, Machine Technology and Application Company(MTAC), which will first assemble the stove for the Haitian market and then produce it. The IRC, Project Gaia and MTAC would work with metal shops in local communities to service, repair and maintain the stove, and design and build auxiliary equipment for the stove, thus employing local workers. Current stove prices (approximately 50 US$ per single burner unit) are expected to decrease slightly as a result of domestic production. The taxes and duties that are levied on goods entering Haiti will be avoided. The Dometic Group will grant to MTAC permission to adapt the stove body to best accommodate local cooking needs and preferences, provided safety and quality are maintained.

Meanwhile, the IRC and Project Gaia will work with farmers and with guildives and small distilleries to encourage the development of small scale fuel ethanol production. This small scale production will create the need for supply chain and marketing strategies not only for ethanol fuel but also for the feedstock used to make the fuel, including biomass grown for that purpose, or biomass that is identified that is waste or surplus. The fuel supply chain will be brought together with the supply chain for the stove. This will create opportunity for employment and for related business opportunities.

The team will also work with a Haitian-American investment group, the Société Immobilière d'Agriculture, de Commerce, et de Tourisme, or SIMACT, which is capable of designing and setting up a stove and fuel business of national scope. SIMACT will be the private sector partner and business owner who will work side-by-side with the IRC and Project Gaia to design a national supply chain that works, and they will develop this as a business. They will have an agreement with the Dometic Group to be the marketer of the stoves. It is anticipated that this business will depend upon many small operators and business people—farmers, feedstock suppliers, haulers, fuel distillers, stove shops and so on. The business would be SIMACT’s business, but built from the bottom up with strong social enterprise objectives.

e. Apart from the clients and the project team, who would care? Was there going to be help for what we hoped to do? 

Because of the earthquake and the terrible toll it has taken, the world’s attention, and particularly that of the Western Hemisphere, is focused on Haiti. The theme of the relief effort is a development theme, “Build Back Better.” The availability of donor funds, the need to act quickly and the awareness of the lack of essential goods and services that are urgently needed (including stoves and cooking fuel) create an opportunity to engage in new approaches and start new businesses in Haiti.

f. How would the emergency intervention transition to recovery? 

If donors and relief agencies, beginning with the IRC and Project Gaia, could assist with getting several tens of thousands of ethanol stoves into the market, these stoves could seed the market and create the opportunity for businesses to supply locally produced fuel to the stoves, as well as for a business to build the stove locally for sale. The scale of ethanol plants would be small; therefore, these plants could be financed with small loans, posing minimal risk to lenders. Clearly what will be needed from the development community is the willingness to loan to small businesses. They will have to have good plans to show how they can succeed. Lenders like the Inter-American Development Bank will be approached to play a role. Grants may be available to help reduce start-up costs and risk, but a business-like approach spurred with small business loans will be most important.

The local machine shop in Port-au-Prince, MTAC, had been identified to us by members of the Haitian American Association of Engineers and Scientists (HAES), a professional organisation. MTAC survived the earthquake, is production ready, and its owner is eager to take on a new challenge. Having worked in the U.S. for many years, he had returned to Haiti eager to apply his skills and know-how in his native country.

SIMACT, likewise, had been identified to us by a U.N. affiliate, the Public Private Alliance Foundation (PPAF). In getting to know SIMACT, we saw that it has the strength to build a business around the stove and fuel supply chain. SIMACT has expressed interest not only in this but also in small-scale ethanol production, since it owns sugarcane land and would benefit from the opportunity to produce cane for a market to which it could retail, allowing it to vertically integrate its business from production to retail sales of the fuel.

g. Would our intervention be appropriate given all of the other problems faced by the Republic of Haiti? 

This was answered for us during our initial economic and resource assessment and confirmed during our scoping visit. We saw that few other efforts were underway to solve the problem of cooking fuel supply in Haiti. While there were immediate suggestions about introducing improved solid fuel stoves to Haiti, we had concluded that solid fuel stoves would not create a clear path to sustainability. We determined that cooking was too important an intervention not to be included in the relief effort, especially one with the objective of moving to better alternatives, which for us mean not just improved stoves but also cleaner fuels. We felt that more of the same—e.g. cooking with wood and charcoal—would not solve the problem of fuel supply in Haiti, nor would it provide benefits to health from reduced emissions, and we hoped that now would be the opportunity to do something different.

Moreover, the perennial suggestion of encouraging more use of LPG and kerosene simply did not make sense to us. How could Haiti, an impoverished economy with a large negative balance of trade and short to non-existent foreign exchange reserves, afford to import LPG or kerosene for cooking fuel—on top of all the other things being imported, including food staples such as rice and sugar? There was even a suggestion to encourage cooking with coal (ESMAP, 2007.) Why not help Haiti to grow its way out of its cooking energy shortage rather than seek the usual solution of importing from one of the better-off neighbours?

h. What would be the barriers—what could go wrong? 

Government regulatory barriers, particularly taxation—including the taxing of donated goods—quickly emerged as the leading barrier. Also emerging as a barrier was the time it would take to get goods into the country. The IRC serves as the consignee for goods shipped in. By the time the IRC had obtained its tax exempt status for the import of relief goods, the backlog at the port had grown to six months.

If goods sit at port waiting for clearance, this can result in port and demurrage fees. Our strategy is to directly engage government but also work with our Haitian partners who may have the best access to government to expedite the goods.

These barriers to technology transfer are unfortunate and probably unwitting. Why would the transfer of beneficial technologies, such as a liquid biofuel stove or an efficient distillery unit not be welcomed by government? Often the transfer is welcomed, in principal, but no exception exists to let the technology in or treat it as any different from other goods, and no provision exists to make exceptions. Government officials are frequently too busy to deal with special cases and may not have the authority on their own to make decisions. As a result, one has to knock on many different doors in government and hope to find a champion who will press for a decision by all who have a voice in it. We began our contacts with the Haitian government through the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Projects simply have to work through the barriers that exist, avoid them where possible, and realise that it takes time.

These barriers influenced our strategy from the outset. They were no surprise to us as they are typical of what we face elsewhere. One solution is to make the stove locally and to work as closely as possible with government. The stove has been simplified so that it can be made in any reasonably well-equipped machine shop. Our two private sector partners, the stove maker and the business that will sell stoves and sell fuel to the stoves are thus critical members of our team. Also important will be the many small farms and guildives, or distilleries, who will equip themselves to make fuel-grade ethanol. These are local opportunities—local businesses—that provide a homegrown solution to the cooking fuel problem. Technology transfer is critical, but once in the country, the more that can be accomplished locally, the better.

The Way Forward in Haiti

The ethanol (CleanCook) stove represents a good choice for Haiti that can address the emergency situation and also serve to rehabilitate the country’s agricultural sector when the crisis is over. The conventional choices in cooking fuels—wood, charcoal, kerosene and LPG–are scarce, expensive or not available. Ethanol can be purchased from Brazil and delivered for less than the current cost of charcoal, and also for less than the cost of kerosene and LPG (see Table 3). But ethanol can also be made cheaply in Haiti from the abundant sugarcane resource, which, if refurbished, could help to revitalise Haitian small scale agriculture.

Table 3: Average price of cooking fuels and stoves pre- and post-earthquake, Haiti (WRC & WFP)

Haitians are no strangers to the distillation of alcohol. Thousands of small mills and distilleries make beverage-grade ethanol in Haiti. In the Léogâne plain alone, over 200 small distilleries were in operation before the earthquake (ESMAP 2007). Many of these small distilleries, if assisted with a business model for fuel ethanol, some new equipment and a small amount of working capital, could switch from the production of beverage to fuel grade ethanol. The know-how is the same and it is there to promote the expansion of an industry. Project Gaia and the IRC visited the largest of the distilleries in the region and found the owner-operator—even though he was doing good business in Clairin—willing to embrace a new opportunity, in part because of its opportunity for scale-up. He would sell his ethanol for less (by half) but make much more of it, with better equipment and fewer inputs. His costs to make ethanol would go down, his scale would increase, and there would be opportunity to earn a better living. He could even increase his margin on his Clairin business, since he could make ethanol more cheaply.

In 2007 ESMAP estimated that some 5612 sugarcane transformation workshops existed nationwide. It is unknown how many of these are operating today. These small enterprises are engaged in everything from cane crushing and syrup production (boiling the cane juice down for sale to beverage distilleries) to small scale sugar and alcohol production. If each of these small enterprises were equipped to produce just 120 litres per day of fuel grade ethanol, they would produce sufficient ethanol to fuel 673,000 stoves. This represents 8,500 to 10,000 tons of cane or sweet sorghum crushed per day, which could be grown on approximately 50,000 hectares, somewhat less than the difference in the amount of land cultivated for sugarcane in 1981-82 and today.

But sugarcane is not the only crop for producing ethanol. There are starchy plants such as manioc, sweet potatoes and certain palms, waste fruits such as mangoes and cashew apples, and many wild plants, among them Prosopis or mesquite pods (mesquite is a major source of charcoal in Haiti), prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) and even cattails (Typha) (Blume 2007). Using the starches and sugars from a variety of crops, and inter-cropping them where possible, would result in less land given over for the purpose of cultivation of energy crops. But Haiti does not lack arable land on which to grow these crops; it lacks markets that pay the farmer what crops he produces. This is why the large cash market for cooking fuel could be so attractive for the farmer (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Conventional and Alternative Feedstocks and Yields (Blume 2007)

In 2009, Haiti’s Presidential Commission on Competitiveness (PCC) began a process to develop a Shared Vision for a Competitive and Prosperous Haiti, which stressed the need to create employment and develop SMEs. The report was finalised in August of 2010, with the added purpose of laying out a plan for earthquake recovery (ERRM 2010). The PCC report described Haiti’s private sector as a few large businesses located in Port-au-Prince focused on export (and paying a majority of the country’s taxes), a tiny formal SME sector in the country, and the “iceberg” (i.e. what is not seen beneath the surface), the tens of thousands of informal SMEs that provide the majority of employment. Of the recommendations to upgrade the competitiveness of the Haitian economy, the report focused on the need to strengthen these SMEs and bring them into the formal sector (PCC 2010).

The Presidential Commission report recommended five areas to prioritise for job creation. These include the usual—garment manufacture and assembly for export, and tourism. But they identify three priority areas which are of interest to the discussion of bioethanol production. These are (1) fruit and tuber production, (2) animal husbandry and (3) housing and urban development.

The report describes the potential for expansion of the fruit and tuber industry for local food security and for export. They note that over 60% of the mangos and other fruits produced for sale spoil or are damaged before reaching market (PCC 2010). They also note that while tubers have good potential for crop expansion, they spoil quickly once harvested. Creating a distributed ethanol fuel industry with farm-scale distilleries fits this agricultural growth strategy like the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle. That portion of the product damaged and unmarketable in the fruit and tuber businesses can be sold to make ethanol fuel, provided there is a distillery in the neighbourhood ready to take and process the material. Since the production of ethanol relies on the sugar or starch in the feedstock but leaves the proteins, minerals and fibre (with the benefit of the yeast) for re-use, usually in a more digestible form, this material can find a value-added market as animal feed, to support the second priority area named in the report—animal husbandry. When discussing bioethanol and food security, it is important to note that the food value of the bioethanol feedstock is not used up or destroyed, but processed, often to a more usable form. Animal feed (including fish food for the growing small-scale aquaculture industry) is a beneficial use for this, since it results in the production of high quality animal protein for human consumption. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has referred to this approach as an Integrated Food-Energy System (IFES) and has identified it as an important strategy to achieve food security (Bogdanski 2010).

The third priority area of relevance in the report of the Presidential Commission is housing. It has been estimated that 250,000 homes were lost in the earthquake, many of these belonging to lower income families. But middle and upper income homes need to be rebuilt as well. The report identifies this sector as a major opportunity for business and job creation, with a likely value in excess of 4.5b US$ over 20 years. While this is an opportunity for job creation—recruiting, training and employing workers to build these homes—it is also an opportunity to install essential clean energy infrastructure, such as ethanol stoves, even for the poorest families. The report calls for a subsidy from donors of 1.1b US$ to leverage 1.5b US$ from the commercial banking sector to finance the building of homes. Homes for lower income families would be leased, sold and financed with subsidy. The family would pay over an extended period. The cost of the ethanol stoves (and other appliances, such as small ethanol-powered refrigerators and efficient lighting) could be financed in the cost of the homes and would be an insignificant part of that cost. If a new home costs 8,000 US$ installed, then the cost of the stove at 50 US$ is 0.0063 of that cost. Since the CleanCook stove is eligible for carbon finance, and if the carbon finance is earned on the stove for each year of its operation, the finance package that has rolled stove and house into one could actually net back earnings to be applied to the debt on the house after the stove has been paid off (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: Pieces of the Jigsaw Puzzle Fit Together

With or without the help of carbon finance, the cost of clean stove infrastructure is affordable. If 250,000 homes for lower income families were built at a cost of 2b US$, it would cost only 12.5m US$ to equip all of these homes with a high quality ethanol stove. If carbon financed, these stoves would pay for themselves in just two to three years. At the same time, they would generate a valuable market for farmers and fuel distillers. This, in turn, would create jobs, provide income, and help homeowners to pay off their new home. (This payback period assumes that the CleanCook stove will earn 5 to 7 tCO2e per household per year when displacing a family’s use of charcoal, with each ton of tCO2e valued at 3 US$. Family charcoal consumption rate is pegged at 2 to 3 kg per day and IPCC values are used for calculation. The analysis is provided by Impact Carbon).

The CleanCook stove is designed to have a 10-year life and if properly cared for will last indefinitely. Charcoal and kerosene stoves generally last a year at best. But what is more important to note is that the ethanol stove can be used inside the house while the charcoal and the kerosene stoves cannot. Both of these stoves produce high amounts of carbon monoxide (CO) and must be used outside. The ethanol stove is as clean as a natural gas, LPG or electric stove. One must ask the question: why spend billions of dollars to build new, code-compliant homes if cooking inside the house cannot be accommodated? If the objective is to “build back better,” why continue with stoves that must be operated outside and which, in any case, produce harmful emissions that fill the courtyards in tightly packed neighbourhoods? Is it a good investment to upgrade housing without upgrading stoves as well? Fortunately, as expensive as it will be to rebuild housing in Haiti, it will be quite economical to provide a clean stove for every new home built. But this needs to be understood and planned for in the design of programs to build back better. Cooking energy—70 to 90% of Haiti’s energy use—cannot be left out of the picture. Unfortunately, the PCC’s Haiti Economic Recovery & Roadmap is altogether silent on the matter of energy and cooking.

Challenges in Developing the Ethanol Market

Although we are optimistic about Haiti’s potential for developing a new stove and fuel, many barriers exist to developing a domestic ethanol fuel market. The stove itself is probably the easiest part of the project. But the stove needs fuel to run. An early barrier may be the extent to which the charcoal trade views ethanol as a competitor. Charcoal traders might resist the development of ethanol fuel. But if ethanol fuel were to show the possibility of growing into a larger and more lucrative trade than charcoal, then perhaps entrenched interests in the charcoal industry would invest in the production of ethanol fuel. Since the ethanol fuel industry is agriculturally based, jobs in the charcoal industry could migrate to ethanol, including the growing and/or collecting of feedstocks. Ethanol manufacture and sales could become a big employer, from the farm to the distillery to the markets for fuel and stoves.

Since the charcoal trade is severely supply-constrained with no way for it to grow, except from beyond Haiti’s borders, a business-as-usual approach may not be very promising. A move away from woodfuels towards short rotation energy crops harvested several times each year, could make good business sense. Mesquite (Prosopis) is a major charcoal species, growing prolifically on many areas of Haiti that are not suitable for cultivation (Lea 1998). Prosopis seed pods are an excellent, high yield feedstock for ethanol (Workneh 2009). This could be a great opportunity particularly for those currently involved in charcoal production. Moreover, certain dryland crops could be cultivated in the Prosopis stands to boost ethanol yields, including melons (Cucurbita) and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) (Blume 2007).

Another barrier may be the concern of the beverage industry, the artisanal Clairin producers and the fine rum producers like Rhum Barbancourt, that a fuel ethanol industry could undermine what they do, compete for their feedstocks, and place beverage alcohol at cheaper prices into the marketplace. These concerns are legitimate and should be addressed head on. The fuel ethanol industry should be properly managed and regulated so that it does not compete with the beverage industry. All fuel ethanol should by law be denatured at the plant and go into its supply chain as a denatured product. It is a purer ethanol (95%) made with different equipment than most Clairin stills employ, requiring fewer inputs, including energy, to make. Clairin enters a higher-paying market. Fuel ethanol enters a lower-paying market on tighter margin with greater volume. Fuel ethanol will not have access to the beverage market, but Clairin distillers could produce for the fuel market. These issues are less likely to affect Rhum Barbancourt, which is focused on export and is set apart by a strong brand.

The fuel industry could eventually increase the price of sugarcane to the distiller. But this could be a long time coming because there is a lot of sugarcane now with no market. If eventually the price that the farmer is paid for his crop increases, this could be considered a positive economic development.

In every country where fuel ethanol has been developed, there has also been a local beverage industry. In every case, the beverage industry has survived and flourished. Perhaps the best example is Brazil with its cachaça industry (Morgan 2011). The beverage industry in very small compared with the fuel ethanol industry, which is specialised. This will eventually be so for Haiti even though, today, the beverage industry dominates and is virtually the only market for cane and therefore a very important one.

Obtaining fuel ethanol to start the market (one might say to “prime the pump”) is another barrier. Donors are needed to provide as much start-up ethanol as possible. Producers are needed to help establish what could eventually become commercial supply lines, later on. Backup on supply is needed to prevent supply interruptions once stoves are operating in Haiti. Brazil’s assistance will be vital in this regard. Supply from outside needs to be in place until Haiti’s distilleries produce sufficient amounts of ethanol fuel to supply the stoves placed in operation to start the project. Once there is equilibrium between operating stoves and local production (at critical mass—big enough to encourage the project to grow), the stove business can grow incrementally, with the addition of more stoves to the market each time that new capacity comes on line.

Brazil trades millions of gallons of ethanol through the Caribbean, and Brazilian sugar is imported to Haiti and other island nations in the region (see Figure 7). Brazil has ethanol to export and sell cheaply to Haiti. But Haiti only needs small amounts of ethanol now—in the hundreds of thousands of litres rather than in the tens of millions of litres, and as a result specific arrangements are required to package and ship this small amount of ethanol. The price of the ethanol will be affected by this and also by the pressures of commodity pricing. But it is possible that an agreement can be made between Brazil and the Republic of Haiti to supply ethanol commercially to Haiti but at a discounted rate until such time as Haiti can develop its own fuel ethanol production or increase its buying power. Brazil exports ethanol at the best price available anywhere in the world, which is cheaper than kerosene, LPG, and cheaper, even, that domestically produced charcoal. Brazil has an interest in developing biofuel capabilities abroad and the Brazilian National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES) has stated that it will assist Haiti by providing project finance (Nogueira 2008).

Figure 7: Ethanol Fuel Shipped through the Caribbean (UNICA)

A final barrier may be worthy of note. This might be called “failure to think outside of the box.” Because ethanol fuel for cooking is still a new idea, even though it has been around for a long time, policy makers may be slow to embrace it. When clean fuels are spoken of, generally kerosene and LPG are thought of, even though kerosene is in fact not clean-burning. When improved stoves are mentioned, this usually means stoves that have been “improved” to burn solid fuels more efficiently, although not always with less smoke and emissions. Ethanol stoves and fuel are often left out of the range of options, even though ethanol burns as cleanly as LPG and a stove like the CleanCook has been shown to excel in all aspects of performance. The concern about the growing of fuel competing with the growing of food has played a role in this. Also the fact that a number of ethanol stoves have suffered from poor functionality and power has contributed. Policymakers have a tendency to go with what is safe, what is best known and most universally espoused. Our challenge will be to encourage policymakers to “think outside of the box.”


In Haiti, the provision of cooking energy for humanitarian aid may provide the entry point for long-term development if the intervention is both well-conceived and well-timed. Bioethanol for cooking may be this intervention, because of its potential importance to Haitian agriculture, to the environment, to human health, to the provision of other services such as new housing, and to the economy. With no good domestic fuel options currently at hand and with the high price of imported fuels, the development of a viable and sustainable home grown solution to cooking may become an important part of “Building Back Better.”

Because of the dislocation of the earthquake and the rising demand for cooking fuel, charcoal and the other fuels currently available are becoming more costly, making it difficult for families to meet their cooking needs. With over 40% of family income going to the purchase of charcoal and other fuels for cooking, many lower and middle income families are straining to make ends meet, while poorer families are skipping meals because they are unable to buy fuel. Emergency aid may provide families with food to cook but usually does not provide the fuel with which to cook it. Thus the difficulty of fuel supply is compounding the problem of food security for Haitians.

Haiti was once a powerful agricultural economy, producing to meet its own needs. In 1981-82 Haiti harvested 80,000 hectares of sugarcane. Today it harvests less than 17,000 hectares (PGI 2010a). Haiti’s dependence on export markets has increased its vulnerability because of its reliance on basic sustenance items it once produced locally. Today it supplements most food staples with imports—a precarious equilibrium. With the exception of charcoal and fuelwood, most other fuels are imported.

Haitians rightly believe that Haiti’s way back from dependency is through reliance on agriculture and a renewed attention to meeting domestic needs and markets. By developing ethanol as a household fuel, Haitians will be able to produce biofuels from their own agricultural crops. Moreover, Haitian families will finally have access to cooking fuel that is clean, safe, affordable and convenient to use. A way back to economic and human health for Haiti is to produce ethanol fuel for its domestic energy market.

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Last edited by Christopher Hughes .
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