Rome Foundation to Bring Jatropha Nursery to Petit Goave

  • Posted on: 31 January 2008
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

Rome Foundation is a Tampa based non profit organization that is involved in building health care infrastructure and in promoting livelihoods in Haiti.  Its staff are active in the southern portion of the country and recently secured thirty acress of land in the Petit Goave Area.  They are currently raising funds for the establishment  of a Jatropha nursery - an innovative way to both fight erosion and create jobs at the same time.


What is Jatropha? Jatropha is a genus of over 170 plants, originally from Central America.  It has since deliberately been nativized in a number of other regions.  When crushed and processed, the oil from it seeds can be used as biofuel.   Several countries such as the Phillipines are already using it as a fuel albeit not on a grand scale.  Due to a lack of research, there is a lot we don't know about Jatropha - optimal growing conditions, optimal methods for cultivation, etc - but the potential is enormous for a gasoline importing country such as Haiti.


Gasoline is very expensive in Haiti and fluctuates wildly based on factors outside of the country's control.  Haiti, to varying degrees, subsidizes gasoline which is a drain on government resources.  When gasoline is high, people travel less whether it be for business, pleasure, or even for health care. 



Widescale production (and processing) of biofuels would provide an alternative energy source for a country that remains largely agricultural.  Even meeting national needs alone would create a great number of jobs.  Should a surplus be created, it could be exported to neighboring countries.  This is a big "could", but the possibiilty is there due to Haiti's strategic location.  Meeting domestic need is paramount but any secondary benefits from exportation would be welcome.



Jatropha can also prevent erosion, a severe problem in Haiti.  Flying into Haiti, you can look out the window and see the topsoil that people need for agriculture flowing out into the ocean.  Using trees to stop this erosion would be welcome but takes a long time to grow.  Further, goats are plentiful and wreck havoc on the saplings.  Brush and shrubs grow far more quickly.  Jatropha tastes disgusting and the goats, or any other animals, won't eat it.



According to Rome Foundation, a mature Jatropha plant can be harvested twice a year.  This is an advantage over some crops which produce only one.  Jatropha can be inter-mixed with other crops as well.  Under fruit trees or with coffee plants are all possibilities for exploration.   



In the old days, cooperative farming was the norm.  Then and now, it takes a group to get things done in Haiti.  Men anpil chay pa lou.  I feel like we've moved away from that, but now the pendulum may be swinging in the other direction.  As land pressure becomes more extreme, going back the old ways (the konbit) may be the only way to keep agricultural viable in the long term.  Rome Foundation knows this and is providing a cooperative with seeds, tools, supplies, and education so that they can manage this project themselves, although Rome Foundation staff will provide oversight.


Once this project has been implemented, Rome Foundation is interested in seeking support to assist governmental partners in constructing parks and clinics.  They have a postive relationship with the government and are engaging other potential visitors to visit Southern Haiti.



Chris Swensen, who runs the Rome Foundation, has started a blog on the Rome Foundation Website.  You can learn more about the Foundation's objectives, partners, and if you also agree that their work will benefit Southern Haiti, consider making a donation which you can do directly though the website.  Environmental innovation may be Haiti's salvation, and this organization intends to do its part to make that happen.  



On a side note, be sure to check out Serenity Resorts, which is under construction in the Petit Goave Area.  A friend of mine was so taken with the beauty of this area, that he recently bought property.  





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