I am neither an agronomist or an energy specialist. But I always have my eyes open for new innovations which could help Haiti achieve either food security or energy independence. Recently, I received an email from The National Algae Association (NAA) annoucing that it would be bringing together Algae oil production companies, algae researchers and "algaeprenuers" together for a conference on June 17th in Woodlands, Texas. The private sector seems to think algae has potential as a biofuel - Chevron, Honeywell, and Boeing all have some involvement in algae businesses. But is it feasible in Haiti?
With the Prime Minister of Haiti having been voted out as a result of the recent food riots, expect biofuels to get put on the backburner for a while – at least as far as the government is concerned. The new Prime Minister will need to assemble a new Cabinet and we hope that the Ministers of Finance, Agriculture, and Energy will all take a close look at the potential of biofuels. In the meantime, the non-governmental organizations keep working away. A successful war on poverty in Haiti must be fought on different fronts at the same time, chief of which are food security and energy independence.
Josette Sheeran, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), spoke this week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on “The Silent Tsunami" of hunger that threatens to push 100,000,000 more individuals into extreme poverty. You can imagine that Haiti came up several times during her presentation. Haitians are resilient people but soaring costs of food prices (and the subsequent increase in percentage of household income spent on food) is pushing people to their limits. As Ms. Sheeran noted, “The difference between civilization and anarchy is seven meals.” Hunger is a global problem and we do not have the option of not responding.
Needless to say, a lot has happened in Haiti over the last few weeks. We saw food rioting in Port au Prince, Les Cayes, and Gonaives. Reuters has photos available here. Food insecurity and the rising cost of living were the primary (but probably not the only) factors. These tensions have been building up for quite some time and it is frustrating that the government did not intervene sooner. In the end, the Prime Minister was ousted and President Preval made an appeal to the international community for support. Now is a good time to review both what the Haitian government has done in response and which donors have stepped up to offer their support during this difficult time.
We've spent a lot of time talking about the potential of biofuels to revitalize Haiti's economy, protect the environment, and promote energy independence. From time to time, we'll provide you with updates of what is actually being done on the ground. This is the April 2008 update.
Haitians are no strangers to hunger. Yet, the past six months of rising food and fuel costs has hit the country hard. But Haiti is not alone. Citizens of other countries are being squeezed as well. Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mexico, Mozambique, Senegal, Argentina, Peru, and Indonesia have all seen protests over rising food costs. Those who were struggling but making ends meet have found themselves spending more and more of their household income on food (and by extension less in other areas such as education.) Will our children and grandchildren inherit a hungrier world? If so, their world will be less democatic, more instable, and more dangerous.
Haitiwebs recently ran an announcement by Maxime Roumer, Senator of the Grande Anse Region, thanking Cuba for its cooperation in promoting the use of renewable energy in Haiti. The Cuban Society for the Promotion of Renewable Energy Sources and Envrionmental Respect, CubaSolar, and the Grande Anse Assocation have formed a partnership to bring renewable energy options to the Grande Anse region.
A colleague sent me a transcript of Congressional testimony by Dr. Johanna Mendelson Forman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington DC. The testimony gives an overview of how a biofuel economy could reduce poverty, promote energy independence, and ultimately contribute to stability in Haiti. A transcript is attached to the blog.
Ever thought that you would see the day when jumbo jets were powered by biofuels? Thanks to Virgin Airlines, we now know it is possible. Click here to watch the (successful) test flight and then check out this article in the Toronto Global and Mail. What does this have to do with Haiti? Presently, not much. But it has a great deal to do with the future viability of biofuel production in Haiti for domestic and international consumption.
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.