An EU-funded training programme in Haiti is teaching young people how to make clean energy cookstoves powered by waste sugar cane biomass. The project aims to save the country’s remaining forests from being cut down for firewood and charcoal.
It’s only about 40 km from the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince to the seaside town of Léogâne, but it’s a bone-shaking two hour drive along dusty, potholed roads choked with traffic. Some buildings along the coastal roadside still bear the scars of successive earthquakes and tropical storms. Everywhere - on the sidewalks, verandas, and backyards - people cook food on makeshift charcoal stoves.
Sixty percent of the population live below the poverty line - a figure which rises to 75 percent in rural areas. Extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and hurricanes are common. Centuries of timber extraction and charcoal production have devastated the country’s forests.
Yet in Léogâne, a quiet revolution is taking place which could play a vital part in helping Haiti adapt to the worst affects of climate change and allow Haitians to become more resilient. Inside a workshop at the Catholic Training and Production Center, a dozen men and women are learning how to manufacture environmentally friendly cook stoves - known as pyrolysis stoves - powered by biomass from waste sugar cane. The project is run by Caritas Suisse and funded by the EU flagship initiative Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+) as part of a €6 million eight year program to combat climate change and reduce poverty in Haiti.
“We want to reduce and replace the use of charcoal for cooking and heating because of the number of trees that are cut down,” says Joan Mamique, the Program Manager in charge of the project. “The farmers produce a lot of waste from sugar cane, corn and rice which is free and can easily be turned into biomass pellets. They don’t have room to store it so we take it off their hands - it’s free, and everybody benefits.”
At the same time, young people are being taught valuable engineering, manufacturing and marketing skills. “We’re aiming to produce 7000 stoves,” says Joan. “We’re not just creating jobs, we are creating an entire supply chain. One student might be good at making the stoves, another at marketing, another might set up their own business. We aim to give them financial independence as well as skills.”
In another part of the workshop, students are being taught how to use a machine supplied by a German engineering company which crushes the sugar cane waste into biomass pellets. Up to 2000 kilos of biomass can be transformed into valuable energy pellets each day - enough to meet the cooking needs of around 4000 households. Students Fréguens Louis and Wilclaude Justin are aware that using firewood and charcoal is destroying Haiti’s remaining forests. “We are proud to take this training," says Fréguens. “Cutting down trees causes great harm to the country and to the people. Our goal is to convince our parents, neighbours and the entire community to use this new cooking technology.”
Rose Guerlande Frédéric was one of the first group of youngsters learning to make pyrolysis stoves and how to produce biomass from agricultural waste. “I told my parents and friends that I am learning how to make modern stoves,” she says. “Since then, everyone wants one!”
Despite the promising start, there have been considerable challenges. “It’s hard to find trainers who have a good knowledge in new energy technology,” says Joan. “But we’ve set up a partnership with the University of Quisqueya to train the trainers. And there are other practical issues, like unreliable electricity supplies. We are continually modifying the design of the stoves, testing them, getting feedback and making them more efficient. It’s a long process.”
“It was also hard to get young people interested in taking part, especially girls. It’s a manual process and most people don’t know anything about renewable energy. They know about solar power, but they haven’t heard of alternatives like wind energy, hydro or biomass. Actually, making the stoves is just the start. Marketing, sales and promotion among the population is the most complicated part.”
Back in the workshop, Maxime Romane Jean Louis talks passionately about his role as a Caritas technician. “I am teaching young people in Haiti how they can transform biomass into gas and how they can make a cook stove, and how they can use the biomass to cook with and to replace charcoal. These stoves are a great opportunity to save Haiti’s trees.”