Economic Development in Haiti: can you say Jatropha?

I keep thinking about what Boston, Lowell, Minneapolis or New York would look like after a 7.0 earthquake, the crumbling buildings, bodies pinned beneath, the unavailability of food, water and electricity, the difficulty of getting medical care. The anguish is unimaginable. But the reality is now in the poorest country in our hemisphere. One wonders if Haiti will ever be able to make economic and social progress. Grinding poverty combines with repeated natural catastrophes to worsen an already bleak outlook. Right now, the only thing standing between Haiti and oblivion is the promise of massive (and hopefully coordinated) relief efforts. Nations and individuals must make good on that promise. But, as Haiti moves from rescue to recovery to rebuilding, what hope is there for the future?

Roger Jean-Charles is a doctor of internal medicine who has worked at Boston Medical Center and teaches medicine in Haiti. Haiti is his primary focus. In addition to his medical duties, which are undoubtedly today’s overriding concern, he has been working for years to raise support to develop a Jatropha alternative fuel industry in Haiti.

Never heard of Jatropha? Voodoo practitioners in some parts of Haiti are said to use it to get rid of evil spirits. But in China, India and parts of Africa, scientists are looking at jatropha for its potential as bio-fuel.

Haiti suffers from, among many things, a chronic lack of electricity. The world suffers from over-dependence on fossil fuels. Jean-Charles is convinced that the jatropha seeds, which yield a kind of oil, can be processed into fuel. He believes that commercial cultivation of jatropha can benefit Haiti. Some projects are already underway.

Jean-Charles wants Haiti to be a leader in the alternative fuels movement. That will take collaboration among scientists, venture capitalists, politicians and even the world’s biggest fuel producers. The benefit would be to Haiti, the Caribbean economies and, yes, the world’s energy users.

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