“Those of you who have been there know it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It has everything. It has everything above the ground and everything under the ground. It is an amazing place. I strongly recommend that whenever you get a chance, if you haven’t been there, that you go to Haiti. I think it was a certain Queen of England who said that after her death Calais would be found written on her heart. When I die, I think that Haiti is going to be written on my heart.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
HCAP² General Project Information
The Haiti Charcoal Alternative Policy Project - HCAP² is an entrepreneurial approach being undertaken to provide a substitute to the usage of wood charcoal in Haiti by securing grants and cooperative assistance to support Haiti-wide utilization of alternative products to benefit ongoing tree planting and agro-forestry conservation efforts. Many Haitians rely primarily on forestry resources for daily food preparation and energy needs and the project purpose is to work with local governments entities, donors, and international organizations, including non-profits, churches and trusts to provide subsidized energy (clean coal) as an alternative which will give local forests a chance to get reestablished and enable the ongoing tree planting programs to be successful. The project focuses on habitat degradation, deforestation and their resulting impact on the economic survivability of affected communities by channeling financial and technical support to local reforestation initiatives to help renovate eroded environments with the primary focus being on reestablishing the country’s original ecosystem, the planting and protection of trees that mature quickly and give immediate financial returns.
Inaugurated in 1990 as the “Haitian Educational and Economic Development Assistance Project,” the Haiti Charcoal Alternative Policy Project – HCAP² is seeking to improve the life of Haitians through educational programs and business development sponsorships that aim at restoring the country forestry environment. With deforestation being the foremost obstacle to sustainable economic development in Haiti which does not have a problem growing trees but is rather incapable of keeping its existing trees and growing new ones in a sustainable way due to the ongoing demand for wood charcoal as the main energy source for food preparation in the most populous regions of the country and the growing need for wood by various local industries, namely rum production, bakeries, dry cleaning, one of the HCAP² Initiative main focuses is sustainable usage of agro-forestry resources through incorporation of training program, workshops, and alternative fuel aid packages to complement ongoing reforestation activities. HCAP² is involved in environmental, health and economic development training which is instrumental in protecting many millions of newly planted trees to date. HCAP² works with local governmental entities to consign degraded public land to local grass root organizations for sustainable reforestation activities that aim at restoring barren land into intact forest areas after about 15 years and provides the necessary training and support to ensure success. Some of the advantages of this approach include: jobs creation that leads to increased taxation revenues, new legislation to protect the environment, much improved cultivation and provision of food, improvement in microclimate and soil quality, restocking of local wildlife. Because poverty in the country’s slums is directly linked to the ongoing deforestation, HCAP² work primarily in marginalized communities that are largely dependent on fuel wood for their daily food preparation needs and is working with non-profit and governmental organizations involved in planting trees to introduce these communities to viable alternatives to fuel wood from which they can derive sustainable economic benefits while enabling Haiti to keep its trees and protect its environment.
One of if not the most severe environmental and ecological problem in Haiti is deforestation resulting from increased logging operations in response to intensified demand for charcoal throughout the country coupled with unsound agricultural practices, rapid population growth, and increased competition over scarce land to meet agricultural needs. While there are many initiatives underway to convert from wood charcoal to alternative cooking fuels, few if any focus on subsidized substitutes that can be afforded by a largely penniless Haitian populace. This Policy Project seeks to secure a twenty year, ten billion dollars of energy subsidies (primary coal) commitment from the United States the Haitian Government can distribute at an affordable price to its poorest citizens to help eradicate their current dependency on charcoal. The aid concept is as follows: Every year over a twenty year period, the U.S. Congress will appropriate half billion dollars to finance energy subsidies for Haiti. Those funds will not go directly to Haiti. They will go to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which will put them in a trust fund at the U.S. Treasury for disbursement to U.S. energy producers who will mine, prepare, package, and deliver their product to the Haitian Government. In addition to creating jobs in the United States, this aid will help reduce Haiti’s vulnerability to food crises, increase growth, help break the poverty cycle and will improve Haiti’s long-term economic health through establishment of new coal-based grassroots businesses that will create jobs and transform Haiti’s rural communities from aid dependent farmers to customers with purchasing powers within about ten to fifteen years…
Deforestation in Haiti: A Historical Perspective
The HCAP² Initiative focuses on trees because they can help restore Haiti to its former splendor and pave the way to economic independence and better environmental health for the Haitian people. Though Haiti is the home of the first permanent European settlement in the Americas, land degradation through deforestation is the major factor that led to its current status as “the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.” Haiti is still the same today as when Columbus first laid his eyes on its shores except that most of its native trees are gone in most of the country causing river valleys to become filled with sediments from eroded mountain sides, leading to the beautiful coastal areas becoming covered with polluted mud from washed away top soils that also turned the turquoise waters into an opaque brown near the shores, killing the coral reef and the aquatic lives it supports.
The reason for this degradation is that from the time since Columbus’ arrival, Haiti has been subjected to exploitation of its soil without any proper sustainable measures for nature, habitat, and forestry resources regeneration. Virtually since 1492, this mountainous nation has shed both topsoil and blood – first to the Spanish who cleared the soil to plant sugar, and continued with the French who cut down the forests to make room for coffee, indigo, and tobacco fields. After the slaves revolted in 1804 and threw off the yoke of colonialism, France collected 93 million francs in restitution from Haïti – much of it in timber to recognize their independence. The mahogany trees that blanketed the mountainous slopes were hence cut to raise money to finance the debt and were almost gone by World War I. After Haiti’s independence, the upper-class speculators and planters pushed the peasant classes out of the fertile valleys and into the steep forested rural areas, where their shrinking, intensively cultivated plots of maize, beans, and cassava combined with the growing fuel wood and charcoal industry to exacerbate deforestation and top soil loss. Today, with an economic environment based on burning trees as there are no affordable alternative fuel to prepare food to sustain daily living, charcoal became the way to make a quick buck. Citizens continue to harvest trees to make the charcoal used as the primary energy source for food preparation in the entire country and across all social castes that has caused the widespread deforestation of woodlands, riverine zones and water catchment areas. This coupled with the unrestricted population pressure over many years have had a devastating impact on arable soil protection, flood containment, food production, water cycle and climate regulations. Less than two percent of Haiti’s forests now remain and most places saw the soil erode right down to the bedrock. Even fruit trees are being chopped down to meet cooking needs and Haiti’s environment has forever changed as a result: 15 of 20 known species of forest animals have been extinct, the land has dried up in many areas making the possibilities for agricultural use extremely limited which in turn led to monoculture with the use of chemical fertilizers in many areas that contributes to further nutrient depletion of the arable soil, hence now to importation of over eighty percent of the most basic food commodities being consumed in the country.
Many studies have illustrated that poverty and hunger are directly related to Haiti’s ongoing environmental degradation. While almost 70 percent of all Haitians depend on agriculture for their subsistence, there has been a particularly strong effort in Haiti since its independence to keep the poor landless, disenfranchised, vulnerable economically and socially, hence easily coercible into working for low wages for the rural and urban elites. Unable to produce their own food, they are quickly absorbed into the cities life working as low wages domestic servants. In 2010, Haiti had a per capita income of 611 dollars and remained by far the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with a population that has the lowest health and educational indicators in the Americas. Less than 20 percent of Haitians receive primary health care and illiteracy rate is about 60 percent. The mortality rate for children under five is more than double the regional average and life expectancy is 55 years. In recent decades, Haitian farmers have abandoned agriculture in search of greater profits from supplying charcoal to large urban and rural populations. With the collapse of agricultural sector, an unemployment rate of 60%, and sliding deeper into poverty, Haitians are forced to destroy remaining forests for wood charcoal production. This consumption of natural resources just to stay alive further contributes to the ongoing degraded environmental conditions and Haiti’s problems of poverty, inadequate education, and poor health conditions are the result of years of land management neglect and deforestation misrules, which, although it will take years to overcome, can be addressed if the processes advocated by the HCAP² Initiative are adopted.
HCAP² works in partnership with various local governments and area citizens to renovate mountain farms and plant various fruit trees to provide shades and embellishment that will serve as models of what can be accomplished throughout the country. As long as Haiti continues to cut down trees to make charcoal, it will have denuded mountains… once it stops cutting trees to make charcoal, the ongoing tree planting efforts will be successful, there can be new legislation to protect existing trees and the land will be green again… HCAP² seeks to eradicate the use of wood charcoal as the primary fuel for food preparation which will enable ongoing tree planting efforts in Haiti to transform the deforested arid mountains into tree covered areas within 20 years with your support. Will you help support this noble cause?