It's amazing what happens to a community when you give them options for a better future. It is exciting, and incredibly rewarding. Since 2009 we have been working with rural Haitians and refining our Jatropha Program. Because Haitians developed the plan there is a strong sense of ownership and pride associated with the work of planting these trees.
Jatropha is a shrub that produces non-edible fruit. The seeds of this fruit are rich in oil, and this oil is extracted with a mechanical press. Once pressed the oil does not need further refining to run in most diesel engines (generators, trucks, tractors, etc.). Jatropha oil can be mixed with diesel fuel. This will bolster the economics in rural areas, and lower carbon emissions in Haiti. As if this isn't enough, the byproduct of the pressing process (seedcake) can be compressed into an alternative charcoal briquette. This will also generate income in rural Haiti and protect the vulnerable island from further deforestation.
Today we have over 1,000 participating farmers in southern Haiti and over 100,000 trees have been planted. Hillsides have been bolstered, soil improved, and no food displaced by the process because we either inter crop Jatropha at safe distances or use it as a border crop (because animals do not eat it). Each of these trees should yield enough seed to create a gallon of oil each year. If we assume the price of a gallon of oil to be $5.00, that means these communities will bring in $500,000 a year. Jatropha lives 25-45 years, so in 25 years these communities will have made $12.5 million dollars. The proposition is exciting, and encouraging.
More encouraging was the news we received from the JDT Foundation last month. Named for Joseph Dennis Thomas, the Foundation focuses upon improving education, the environment and the economics in Haiti. Sirona is honored to have received grants from the JDT Foundation which will pay for the planting of our next 100,000 trees in 2012. In addition, another grant from Dupont will allow us to plant even more trees and begin the process of producing jatropha oil this spring.
It has taken a lot of hard work to get here, but it is gratifying to see the difference that Haitians are making. The program is run as a partnership with Sirona funding nurseries to generate seedlings, and the trees are then planted voluntarily by farmers to help improve their land. We are always looking for ways to create even more sustainability, so this past year we allowed 10 farmers to "borrow" $50 each to extend their farms. Rather than be repaid in cash we elected to have these farmers pay back the debt in food to the local school's lunch program.
Many thanks to the JDT Foundation, to Dupont, and to our supporters who have gotten our friends in Haiti this far.