The environment is the foundation of every society. A country’s success or failure is intimately tied with how its environment fairs. Pollution, environmental degradation, extreme weather fluctuations affect everyone, particularly the most vulnerable populations living in developing nations. In Haiti, we have seen this unfortunate reality through the devastating effects of several natural disasters. In 2008, climatic disasters caused losses and damage worth $200 million to the agricultural sector and resulted in food insecurity that affected an estimated 3 million people, or one third of the population. In the wake of the disasters, both urban and rural poverty rates have risen. These issues present critical challenges for Haiti’s development, and highlight the importance of focusing on the environment in order to make progress.
This Earth Day, we are celebrating the ways in which the environment can be used as a resource to advance development. A healthy environment brings stability to boost the economy, fertile soils on which farmers can plant, and mitigated effects to weather fluctuations. It also allows for the country to focus on creating sustainable jobs.
In Haiti, one of main environmental challenges is deforestation. The country has an alarmingly high rate of deforestation, driven largely by its dependence on wood and charcoal for fuel. Wood fuel, which accounts for 70 percent of energy consumption, has been over exploited for the past 20 years and the loss of Haiti’s tree cover has had devastating effects. For example, many of the 3,000 people who died during Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 were killed by the massive mudslides that were accelerated by the heavy deforestation in the area.
The Clinton Foundation works in Haiti to help address these issues while simultaneously creating economic opportunity. We focus on the intersection between energy, environment and agriculture. As part of our efforts, we are partnering with the Smallholder Farmers Alliance to plant 2 million trees by the end of 2015 and connecting over 3,200 farmers with high-quality inputs, training, and access to new markets. Haiti has the potential to produce agricultural products that are in high demand in international markets, such as lime, coffee, sisal, and castor oil. By planting trees and growing these products, we can make a significant impact in the reforestation of Haiti, while simultaneously creating sustainable jobs and improved incomes.
Recently, we teamed up with Firmenich, the world’s second largest flavor and fragrance company, to create business opportunities for Haitian lime farmers. The project aims to revitalize the country’s lime oil production by planting seedlings, providing training, and facilitating value-add export opportunities for lime oil.
To help coffee farmers, the Clinton Foundation has collaborated with La Colombe, the Leslois Shaw Foundation, and others to create the Haiti Coffee Academy in Thiotte, a model farm and training center. The Coffee Academy is delivering basic and ﬁnancial literacy training to area farmers, growing new varietals of coffee, collaborating with farmers on improved agricultural practices, and helping link smallholder farmers with large international buyers like Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
Partners like Kreyol Essence are selling Castor oil as an eco-luxury product. The castor oil industry has been largely neglected in Haiti, but now with the increased purchases of castor seed, farmers are now planting more castor plants as they grow quickly and are very sturdy plants.
As we work with Haitians to preserve the country’s forests, it is also important to encourage the use of alternative forms of energy. We have collaborated with companies such as NRG who are doing great work with solar, providing energy to hospitals, schools and businesses.
This work is very important to me because it affects so much of the population. It is heartbreaking to see the constant suffering of the Haitian people due to disasters; it’s as if the country cannot get a break. The sad truth of the matter is that Haiti will not get a break until it addresses the environmental degradation. A tired nation of people will be called upon year after year to be resilient due to environmental disasters until the tide is turned. I want to see the people of Haiti prosper. I want to see the nation move forward. By recognizing the value of our natural environment instead of constantly fighting it, we can make positive strides and improve the lives of the Haitian people.
In recognition of Earth Day, the Clinton Foundation is showing how climate change and sustainability are at the root of many pressing global issues. Our Earth Day 2015 series will feature different voices across our initiatives, to highlight the ways in which the Earth can be used as a valuable resource to advance progress within our focus areas on an individual, community, and global level.