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close this book Boiling Point No. 36 - November 1995
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View the document Haiti's Domestic Fuel Project

Haiti's Domestic Fuel Project

by Peter Young - IT Consultant

The insatiable demand for charcoal

Haiti is a mountainous island with a population of six million people. The destruction of its forests and vegetation has left much of the countryside barren and has exposed steep mountain slopes to severe erosion. The continuing loss in agricultural productivity and the natural increase in population have forced farmers to cultivate more and more marginal land as well as to farm closer to exposed edges along deep ravines.

Current forest reserves are estimated to be only four times the annual consumption of fuelwood. Much of the fuelwood is converted into charcoal by local farmers to generate much needed cash to maintain their meagre economy.

Households mostly in Port au Prince the capital city (population 1.2 million) spend US$75 million dollars on charcoal each year. This is greater than the revenue from the power and transport sectors of the economy. Households in rural areas use collected wood on open fires but although they are not major contributors to deforestation they suffer from the scarcity and the increased burden of collecting their fuel.

Table 1

Household fuels

Quantities in Tonnes



1990 Rural



1990 Total







A small number of households use bottled gas and in Port au Prince about 15 per cent cook only with gas, although another 22 per cent use gas occasionally. Kerosene is widely used in rural areas for lighting but is rarely used as a cooking fuel. In 199091, the Government of Haiti embarked upon a project to popularise the use of gas, and more than 80,000 gas stoves (BiP Ti Chert) costing US$35 were sold. This price was considerably lower than the production cost. This was made possible by subsidies from the Government of France as well as by Shell removing some of the cost of production and distribution of their stoves and putting it on the price of gas. Although the ownership of gas stoves has increased from one in ten households to one in four, the sales of gas still remain disappointingly low. Total sales of butane are the energy equivalent of about 2.4 per cent of the sales of charcoal for the whole country or 3.3 per cent of the sales of charcoal for Port au Prince. At the time of distribution of the stoves, Shell estimated that BiPs would replace charcoal stoves by 30 per cent in most households. Today this is probably less than 10 per cent.

The majority of households in Port au Prince (63 per cent) still prefer to cook only with charcoal on low efficiency metal stoves (Rechaud) costing US$1.5 each. More expensive charcoal stoves

(Potaje), costing US$7, with 2-3 pot places are however becoming popular with middle income households.

There are about 10,000 small enterprises selling cooked food on the streets of Port au Prince and probably as many again in other major towns and cities. They are heavy consumers of charcoal and use a larger version of the Rechaud stove. Recently a large number of schools and feeding centres have been providing cooked food to children, expectant mothers and adults in need of support. A total of 110,000 children are expected to continue receiving cooked food for the foreseeable future.

Cooking Costs -The poor pay more.

In most countries fuel prices are an important factor influencing the choice of fuel. With Haiti's extreme poverty and poor income security many households use charcoal simply because it can be purchased in very small quantities. Table 2 shows that high income groups pay the least and low income groups pay the most for their cooking fuel. The poorest buy charcoal on a daily basis which costs them twice as much per unit as gas (251b cylinder) or charcoal (per bag). Kerosene is vastly underutilized as a cooking fuel, and when purchased by the gallon is only about one third the effective cost of charcoal. Even when purchased in small quantities it is still as cheap as propane and could become an attractive alternative to gas for low income families.

Table 2: Fuel Prices and useful cooking costs. (June 1995)



Cost per useful MJ

User group

Charcoal per marmite (2.5kg)


0 172

low income & poor

Charcoal per Bag (43kg)

0 7


middle income

Kerosene per bottle (1 litre)


0 071

use is negligible

Kerosene per gallon



use is negligible

Gas Butane (51b)



middle income

Gas Propane (251b)


0 070

high income

Wood per stick (1kg)



use is negligible

Tackling the problems.

The Bureau of Mines and Energy (BME) will undertake a four year household energy project commencing in June 1996. Its primary aim will be to reduce charcoal consumption by 19 per cent by the year 2000.

This will make an important contribution to the Government's environmental programme and current reforestation efforts by helping to bring fuelwood demand into line with fuelwood supply. The project's three targets will be popularisation of gas, of kerosene and of improved charcoal stoves.