by Ruchi Shah
On April 4th, 2013, The Public-Private Alliance Foundation (PPAF) convened a consultation on cook stove and fuel alternatives in Haiti, held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and hosted by the UN Office for Partnerships. The meeting had two purposes:
1) Advance the expansion of a pilot project by bringing together more partners and discussing the further steps
2) Promote the benefits of new cook stoves in Haiti and elsewhere
The PPAF is committed to improving lives through the creation of partnerships to help reduce poverty and achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. PPAF focuses on Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Madagascar and its projects stimulate entrepreneurship, investment in these countries and job creation. The organization currently has a pilot project to commercialize ethanol cook stoves and fuel in Haiti to help overcome the poverty-respiratory disease-deforestation trap that most families face as a result of heavy reliance on charcoal for cooking. PPAF is working with Path To Haiti Business Consulting LLC, CleanStar Ventures, led by Sagun Saxena, and other business and non-profit partners. The stoves are fueled by locally produced sugar ethanol, and their production is environment-friendly, simultaneously promoting farming and small business development.
The meeting had some 70 participants from diverse backgrounds and sectors, including investment, non-profits, academia, the Haitian government and experts from different wings of the UN. All participants were enthusiastic and eager to carry out discussions to promote this project. Starting with a review of program goals by Dr. David Stillman, Executive Director of PPAF, the meeting continued with remarks by several experts and in-depth discussions within six working groups.
To understand this project and the issues in Haiti, we need to be aware of the country’s current situation from an environmental and sustainability standpoint. In Haiti, wood and charcoal for cooking accounts for 75% of total energy use, and the procurement of wood has led to massive deforestation, erosion and hurricane mudslides. Moreover, fumes from the four million tons of firewood consumed each year produce health hazards, reinforcing a cycle of poverty. Women and small children are the most vulnerable to what the World Health Organization calls the “Killer in the Kitchen”.
Clean burning ethanol cook stoves can help solve these problems. One major concern in Haiti is the fuel required for household energy. Project Gaia, Inc., which donated an initial supply of cook stoves manufactured by Dometic AB, promotes the use of alcohol fuels for household energy production. These new cook stoves can benefit those families who have limited access to clean energy. Furthermore, the stoves and fuel can be produced locally, creating an opportunity for Haitians to become owners of their energy systems, from production to end-use.
Haiti has a long history of sugarcane farming and small-scale alcohol production operations. However these farming and distillery industries need to be revitalized; adding cooking fuel production as a new value stream can be of tremendous help.
A 2011 study led by the Haitian Ministry of Public Works, Transport & Communications, with support from the UN Environment Programme, estimated that reducing the country’s reliance on charcoal for cooking by 20% in 10 years would require a million improved stoves. PPAF has identified several issues that need to be resolved. These include the need for investments, a strong marketing and distribution channel to ensure meeting the supply-demand levels, resources and necessary tools to provide information, and developing standard testing protocols to illustrate long term benefits and impacts. As one of the participants said, “There are 250 million cell phones in sub-Saharan Africa; this is an achievable goal”.
At the UN consultation we all were asked to join one of several working groups and to consider the cross-cutting issue of gender in all of them. The groups were:
1) Stoves: Consumer-level issues
2) Fuel: Consumer-level issues
3) Distillation: Ethanol production and distribution issues
4) Distribution: Availability of marketing of vook stoves and fuel
5) Finance: Pilot project and expansion phase resources
6) Awareness: How to communicate the issues and the benefits of ethanol cook stoves
I joined the stoves group, which included Mr. Harry Stokes, the founder and director of Project Gaia, Inc. We discussed advantages and disadvantages of ethanol stoves in general, cost and payment options, micro finance, stove design and availability of cook stoves.
Some key points that came out of our committee were:
a) Focus on the active involvement of women, since in Haiti they do most of the cooking and, being the first consumers, they would better understand the importance of these stoves.
b) Women’s entrepreneurship should be promoted by creating a new loan system.
c) It is also important to modify current stove design as may be needed for cleaning with little water, and for holding pots of various sizes.
At the end, each group leader came to the podium and reported their group’s outcomes. It was very interesting to hear the different views of experts, but the main conclusions to be drawn are that this project had truly touched people’s hearts, and that it will surely be taken to a wider and larger scale thanks to this workshop.
I believe these ethanol cook stoves are one of the most efficient ways to reach MDG targets. Project Gaia worked in Madagascar on this issue and came up with a very simple equation:
1 stove + 1 liter of ethanol = 8 kg less wood to carry
This equals to an average of 20 hours of work freed of fuel gathering per week, freed up to devote building a healthy life and avoiding the breathing of harmful air pollutants. This initiative interconnects all eight Millennium Development Goals! To have more accurate analysis on the impacts, cost and benefits of these clean stoves, life cycle analysis can prove to be a useful tool.
I would like to thank PPAF for inviting me to be a part of such an informative and exclusive discussion. I gained a more analytical perspective on problem solving and partnerships in this area. Also I learned there is an opportunity for students to volunteer or intern at PPAF , Project Gaia or other partners and get involved in this project. Two major areas for this project are developing a marketing approach and a microfinancing model. If you would like to join in advancing this project or a start a movement at Penn and beyond to support this effort, with permission from your advisor one can also carry out this project as an independent study;
Please feel free to contact Ruchi Shah for more details about the project.