Haiti Trip Report: Carbon Roots Tackles Poverty & Deforestation
Eric Sorensen and Ryan Delaney are building a social enterprise in Haiti called Carbon Roots. It is the kind of company that checks all the boxes we look for at 3rd Creek Foundation. The Carbon Roots business model increases income generation for persons living in poverty, improves environmental conservation and human health, and is on the path to profitability to ensure its own sustainability.
Initially, Eric and Ryan became involved in Haiti in response to the 2010 earthquake. After the emergency disaster response faded, they both decided to embark on a longer-term commitment to support ongoing development and resilience in the country. This led them to addressing two serious problems in Haiti: Deforestation and Poverty. They began in La Coupe, a valley in central Haiti, by developing biochar, a smoldered crop waste to be used as soil fertilizer. They planted demonstration plots to prove to local smallholder farmers that they could increase their crop yields by returning the waste to their fields as biochar. The farmers were more interested, however, in using the biochar as a cooking fuel.
Eric and Ryan learned from this feedback and pivoted the business. By shifting the focus to cooking fuel—or “green charcoal”—they continued to address deforestation and poverty guided by market demand. The majority of Haitians traditionally cook with wood and charcoal every day. As a result, they have stripped the nation’s mountains and hills of its much needed tree coverage. The topsoil from these denuded hillsides has eroded as a consequence, leaving the land less fertile and local communities much more vulnerable to flooding and other climate-related events. The bottom line is thus that Haitians living in poverty are left with less arable land for producing food and income.
After years of experimenting, Eric and Ryan worked out the technical problems associated with carbonizing bagasse (sugar cane waste) into a dust, which can then be pressed into charcoal briquettes. At the beginning of this year, Carbon Roots upgraded from producing bagasse in 250 steel barrels to feeding it into a large kiln using a cork-screw augur. This mechanized process allows them to decrease emissions and increase production volume by 30% to 1,000 sacks of charcoal per month at an estimated 65% to 75% gross profit margin.
Today Carbon Roots has a fully functional production plant that struggles to to keep up with the demand for its green charcoal, a good problem to have. Because the business has a proven model, 3CF co-founder, Pam Straley and I, traveled to Haiti as part of a Carbon Roots donor/impact investor group to explore investment opportunities in the next phase of their expansion plan. Carbon Roots aims to raise $2 million during this phase, to acquire 4 additional kilns and increase green charcoal production to over 100 tons per month.
The Carbon Roots plant employs 30+ workers who earn a competitive living wage. Impact from income generation does not stop with Carbon Roots employees, however. Small- and mid-scale sugar cane farmers from the region now earn an income for bagasse, a cane production by-product that they previously burned as waste. The positive impact from Carbon Roots operations also extends to environmental preservation, and the company’s CO2 footprint rests neutral to slightly positive. This is a good example of what I believe an impact investment should look like.
3rd Creek Foundation is currently evaluating the proposal and speaking with prospective co-investors. Thus if you are interested in supporting this project, I encourage you to get in touch with us.
Dave Straley is Founder and Treasurer of 3rd Creek Foundation.