Alternative Charcoal in Les Cayes: Professor Amy Smith and her students at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) have created an alternative that is made from locally available organic materials, a steel drum, and a press. Anyone can make this wood-free briquette and plans are already underway to introduce both household and larger-scale use in the department of the south. Boasting hotter temperatures and a longer burning time than traditional wood charcoal, these briquettes are hard to beat. Advantages of the alternative briquette: Longer-burning Hotter Cheaper than charcoal No long trek in search of materials Virtually anyone can make them Doesn’t require cutting down trees and degrading the environment Materials needed: Organic materials usually thrown away such as coconut husks, bagasse from sugarcane, corn cobs, or the roots of vetiver grass Dry leaves Soil with high clay content Steel drum with cover Press to make briquettes The Process: 1. Fill the steel drum with the organic material and dry leaves. Light and let burn, covered, for approximately forty-five minutes. Let contents fully cool. 2. Mix the ash with clay-like soil. Hands are the best tools for mashing up the ingredients! 3. Press mixture into briquette mold. Use a blunt object to hammer the mixture into the mold for a firm briquette. Remove and allow to dry thoroughly before using. Who can use these briquettes? In the village of Kans, near Les Cayes, one feisty restaurant owner is chasing charcoal producers out of her neighborhood. After participating in a training workshop through the CAPAS center with Agronomist Isaac Cherestal, this woman has made it her personal quest to stop wood charcoal from being sold in her community. For her restaurant business it is alternative charcoal or none! On a rainy afternoon in March, she and Isaac demonstrated the briquette-production method. “With forty briquettes I can prepare a meal, and I can make forty briquettes in the morning before I start cooking!” Using these alternative briquettes reduces her production expenses because the materials are free. She has also reduced her cooking time because the briquettes are more efficient. This story demonstrates how small business owners can benefit from this strategy, and also how easily an individual or household could put this simple technology into their routine. In the village of Camp Perrin, the Organization for the Rehabilitation of the Environment (ORE) is gearing up to train producers of traditional wood charcoal in the production of the alternative briquette. Using larger presses that can make twenty briquettes at a time, the hope is that these producers can switch to selling the alternative and still make a profit. Since most Haitians rely on charcoal for cooking it is critical to find a solution that is culturally appropriate and simple enough to catch on. Professor Smith’s briquette seems to be just that. Many families are facing chronic hunger, and ORE’s strategy to target producers is very important. An alternative that does not consider these people and their need to make a living is doomed to fail in the face of the misery of poverty and the high cost of living. These two initiatives in Les Cayes are being carried out by Haitian National Coalition for the Environment, or KNAA, members CAPAS and ORE, and they are equally important in the quest to save trees. Trainers from Les Cayes are available to interested organizations in the KNAA.
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