Saturday, April 16, 2011

Why Sirona Intercrops Jatropha in Haiti

Dear Subbanna, this is Michelle's response to your question:

Why Sirona Intercrops Jatropha in Haiti...

In Haiti, food land is precious. The majority of Haiti is covered in small mountains, meaning that the precious plains should be protected for food cultivation. Sirona Cares takes a strong stand against plantation model jatropha farming in Haiti for this reason. Monoculture farming is not the norm in Haiti. You find banana trees, pumpkins, beans, many different crops in the field of the small farmer. Unfortunately you also find exhausted soil. While one might think that farmers are working with us to intercrop Jatropha to gain financially, that is not their primary motivation. The reason that our tree planting costs are so incredibly low (.10 cents a tree) is that the farmers use their land and labor to forward the project. Sirona pays for the nursery set-up, tools, and management. Intercropping Jatropha does several things that the farmers need aside from the additional income potential. Jatropha plants put nitrates back into the soil, reviving it for food production. Jatropha protects topsoil from erosion helping the farmer mitigate against soil loss during the rainy season, and the by-products of the seed pressing process are, not only the oil, but a nitrate rich fertilizer and the key ingredient for a clean-burning charcoal substitute. Haiti is almost completely deforested at this time. Topsoil erosion is occurring at an alarming rate, and natural watersheds are deteriorating rapidly. Farmers see this and are searching for affordable solutions. Sirona Cares is giving them an option by providing free seedlings from our nurseries for the farmers to take to their land. We educate on safe intercropping that will result in no reduction of food production, and this model helps the farmers succeed in growing healthy Jatropha because they tend it with their crops. Jatropha seed production is directly related to care (water/fertilizer) that the plants receive.

In the initial rush internationally to capitalize on Jatropha farming for Jatropha oil, the plantation model was used the most. Not surprisingly the economics of that model frequently failed. Land purchase, loss of food crops, displacement of people, and field maintenance costs all create issues with the plantation model that are avoided by putting these trees in the hands of farmers in Haiti to intercrop. They also plant on hillsides to stop the erosion of soil and mudslides that are occurring due to deforestation. I returned from Haiti yesterday after meeting with leaders of 32 different farming organizations who are all excited to participate in this program.... And when we bring our press this summer and show them the oil, well, it will be a very exciting day. Only then will they see the vision that we have for Haiti. We build sustainable communities by placing the power to create, use and sell alternative energy in the hands of the worlds poor, and we have made our model with them rather than for them. We are always open to comments and suggestions, and I thank you for your question.

Michelle Lacourciere
Director, Sirona Cares Foundation.