In the rural areas of Haiti, wood is an important fuel. Everywhere throughout the country, it is women who walk daily for hours, often crossing dozens of kilometres, in the search for this precious commodity.
In Mabial, a locality situated 18 kms North of the town of Jacmel in the South-East of the country, deforestation has reached its high point. The peasants must cover many kilometers to find wood in other localities. Paleus Garraud is one of the women who uses wood to cook her family food. She tells of her experience.
“I used to fetch wood from my gardens, now the bushes have disappeared. There are no more trees near my house. To find enough wood, I must walk for long, sometimes for hours. My feet hurt. It is hard to walk long distances and carry heavy loads,” she says.
Sarah Jean-Louis who lives in the community of Gosseline (district of Jacmel) has watched trees grow around her house. She saw them disappear one by one, year after year. That means a lot to her. Actually, it means less birds and cattle, less water and much less wood to cook with.
To cope with this situation, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in the area have launched educational programmes to promote new techniques aimed at the rational use of wood.
In order to better use the wood that she has today, Elijean makes sure that it is very dry before burning it. She covers her pot during cooking to boost the cooking process. Elijean prepares all that she needs to cook ahead of time and puts the pot directly on fire to save energy.
“Before the shortage of fuelwood, I would fix two meals a day. Nowadays, I only cook one meal,” she says. “Sometimes we eat vegetables without cooking them. That is sad, but we have no choice.”
Acknowledging the scarcity of fuelwood, Jeanilia Dougé from the community of La Montagne, near Jacmel (15 kms on South-West of Jacmel) attempts to find ways to deal with the situation. With a family of 7 children she makes palm baskets. She sells them at the market. This work enables her to earn more money during the dry season.
“I must take a mule and walk for hours to fetch wood. When there is no wood, my family suffers. During many years, I thought that there was nothing I could do. But one day, I said to myself: ‘why should I not grow trees in my garden, even if they are small?’ I planted trees around my yard as a fence: fruit trees, and fast-growing trees. I have begun to plant trees which provide me with avocados, coconuts, mangoes and oranges.”
One does not need to be an ecologist or environmentalist to observe the disappearance of Haiti’s vegetation cover, year after year. Forest cover has gone down from 20% in 1956 to 9% in 1978. In 1989 it was 2% of the total surface of the country. Nowadays, we speak of 1 to 2%. The official statistics reveal 1.44% ( UNOPS, Haiti Econet 1998; and BME, Synergique 1999).
“At present, one of the immediate solutions for protecting the last trees of Haïti from the scourge of deforestation is the use of LPG (Liquified Petroleum Gas), as well as a high conservation of energy in the consumption sector. However, Haiti is one the countries of the Caribbean where LPG (propane and butane) is out of reach of the households, or at least costs them too much,” according to Jean-Robert Altidor, an engineer who works as technical advisor at the Haitian Office of Mines and Energy (BME).
LPG, distributed to Haitian households for US$0.70 per kilogram, is sold for US$0.56 in Jamaica, US$0.37 in Trinidad and Tobago, US$0.24 in Cuba and US$0.10 in the Dominican Republic. Haitian consumers of LPG have welcomed the arrival of a new distributor, in the expectation of a price reduction of the product.
However, nothing has been done in this area. During recent months, prices have increased once again even while the government announced loudly that it was about to launch a promotional campaign for the use of LPG in households.
The limited capacity of storing gas, presently estimated at 1800 tons, justifies the level of the retail prices, according to specialists.
In keeping with ongoing measures, the Technical Advisor of BME, urges the leaders of the country to implement a subsidy system for LPG. He encourages users to purchase equipment with high energetic output for reasonable prices. He also suggests that the national provision of LPG is harmonized by requiring importing companies to collaborate in order to reduce the cost per barrel at import as well as transportation fees. Finally, he recommends that filling centres be established and the sale of empty tanks be controlled.
“One proposed measure is subsidizing (partially or totally) the investment of purchasing butane or propane or other alternatives to charcoal. Can we find a statistic figure on the consumption of fuelwood in Haiti?”
An effort has been undertaken, in the scope of the “Agroforestry Outreach Project,” to obtain reliable statistics on the consumption of fuelwood and charcoal. The results are based on counts by stations located at the entrance of the main cities. This allowed for more or less precise figures. As a matter of fact, a huge difference has been noted between estimates by foresters and by energy specialists, who take the relation between the energy source and the transportation equipment into account.
Estimates on the consumption of fuelwood
Taking account of the different consumption estimates for the small business sector from 1974 to 1998, one can distill the following figures: 240,000 tons for sugar cane mills, 120,000 tons for bakeries, 50,000 tons for the oil mills, 20,000 tons for the Dry-Cleanings, 20,000 tons for another category entitled “Other” (popular restaurants, jam factories, cassava factories, lime kiln (mainly in the North-West). The grand total is 450,000 tons of fuelwood.