Nature Feeds Our Families
It’s Tuesday—market day. Idamane Supreme leaves her husband and children and heads down the dusty hill, past hundreds of neighbors milling around in front of their small homes. At 9 am, it’s already starting to get hot.
The main road that leads into this Haitian village is teeming with life. Trucks, donkeys, goats and people are all trying to stay out of each other’s way. Women and men display their goods on colorful cloths that line the side of the road.
Idamane works her way through the crowd, buying groceries for the week: rice, beans, plantains, oil, sugar and vegetables. She negotiates for a live chicken, which she carries home by its feet.
When she gets back home, she does something that only a few dozen other women in this village of 3,000 get to do: she pulls out a box, finds a spot in the sun and sets up a solar oven.
An Alternative Source of Fuel
This project is an example of how The Nature Conservancy is doing impactful work in a way that incorporates both the needs of nature and local communities.
Tilori lies on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and the edge of the Sabana Clara Forest Reserve. As the trees around Tilori began diminishing, villagers began crossing into the forest reserve to gather wood for cooking, having to go further and further each time and disrupting the ecological health of the forest reserve.
The Conservancy worked with the Dominican Republic Ministry of Environment and developed an innovative agroforestry project in 2009. The project began with villagers planting fruit trees as a sustainable food and income source and fast growing woody trees that, once mature, could provide fuel.
In late 2011,in a joint effort with Solar Household Energy Inc., a second component was added: a pilot project in which 30 families in the Tilori area received a solar oven and an energy-efficient stove for evenings or cloudy days.
“50 goud [Haitian currency] of wood used to last us one week and now it can last us three weeks,” Idamane says. “We used to go more often to get wood, and now we have to go a lot less often.”
Better Health, Better Living
Idamane’s kitchen is a modest 10′ by 10′ wooden structure. There is no running water and no electricity. Piles of wood sit at the ready. Cooking over an open flame would quickly fill the dark, enclosed area with debilitating amounts of smoke.
“Before I had the new ovens, I fell down and hit my head,” Idamane says. “The doctor told me not to use wood because the fumes would hurt my eyes and give me headaches when I cooked.”
Idamane began saving up for a cast oven — money that could be used for basic necessities for her family. Luckily, she soon received the combined cooking system through the pilot project and her health issues went away.
A Community Need
However, having the ovens has created a different sort of problem for Idamane and the other women in the pilot project: everyone wants one.
“Having the ovens has become a dilemma because every time other people in the community see our ovens, they want to have one too,” Idamane says. “Some people have even offered me money to buy it, but I would never do that.”
Idamane has seen how the combined cooking system is saving her family money, protecting the area’s natural resources and safeguarding her health. But 30 ovens for a community of 3,000 are simply not enough.
“What I would like to see for this project is for it to spread to many more families,” Idamane says. “There are about 30 families using the oven, but there are about 250 more families who want to have one.”