Basu: His great final act: Saving the rainforest of Haiti with garbage

Adventureland performer Kevin Adair is developing alternative fuels in Haiti.
Adventureland performer Kevin Adair is developing alternative fuels in Haiti. / Carrie McVey/Special to the Register
Written by
Rekha Basu
Adair’s company makes briquettes from recycled materials. / Frida Hyppolite/Special to the Register

If you’ve visited Adventureland in recent years, you might have seen the guy on stilts by the entrance, the pirate by the Galleon ride, the Rip Roaring Rope Spinning Cowboy at Outlaw Gulch or the fire-juggling, double-unicycle riding stuntman on stage.

Those roles belong to Kevin Adair, a Chicago native recruited by a talent agent to work in Des Moines. But this season, his fourth, will be his last. Adair is embarking on his biggest act yet: helping save the forests of Haiti by developing alternative, renewable cooking fuels there.

This is a remarkable story about how someone with a passion for the environment was exposed to deforestation and pollution while on a three-month performance gig in the Caribbean in 2005. That led to an idea, and pretty soon Adair was collaborating with the United Nations World Food Programme and the International Organization for Migration to develop renewable fuels for Haiti.

The booking agent had an offer for Adair at resorts in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island with Haiti. There, he was struck by the poverty and lack of ecological development in a region poised to take advantage of its sun, waves and wind. So Adair did what a magician and hypnotist might: He bought a 2-acre ranch there and developed a team of local people to build “sun ovens” — solar-powered stoves using the sun to generate heat that can reach 350 degrees.

In 2007, Adair created a company called El Fuego del Sol (“fire of the sun”) to produce the stoves in the Dominican Republic. Then in 2012, the World Food Programme suggested that the project move to neighboring Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, where infant mortality is the highest in the world and the unemployment rate is more than 70 percent. A 2010 earthquake had left 1.6 million homeless.

Over 500,000 tons of charcoal are burned every year in Haiti, from millions of tons of trees, mostly smuggled in from the Dominican Republic, Adair says. Haiti itself now has less than 1.5 percent of its original trees. In addition, charcoal smoke is bad for health.

So to quell the demand for charcoal, Adair’s company began making cooking briquettes from paper, cardboard and sawdust waste from the local United Nations office and U.S. and Canadian embassies. In 18 months, it has become Haiti’s largest recycling program. And the briquettes have been declared 30 percent more efficient than charcoal.

Adair’s enterprise is one of four briquette suppliers in Haiti, but his are more cost effective, he says. His operation is producing 5,000 briquettes a day and could boost capacity to 20,000 with more workers, he said.

Joseph Davidson, the feeding program coordinator with the World Food Program in Haiti, said that the school feeding program had been burning around 80 tons of charcoal to cook for 1.1 million school children. But this pilot program is “focusing on the deployment of institutional cooking stoves that burn briquettes made from locally collected waste and other recycled products.” A grant from the Legacy Foundation helped to design the briquette maker, which takes a sloppy papier-mache-like paste and presses it into square blocks that dry in the sun.

The Clinton Foundation announced a $100,000 grant to El Fuego del Sol in March, saying it would support 20 jobs for vulnerable and earthquake-affected Haitians while tripling briquette production. The International Organization for Migration in Haiti provided a $18,200 grant last year.

Every chance Adair gets, he runs back to Haiti, where he hopes to eventually be based and draw a salary, though he now lives off his Adventureland earnings. He calls his project a hybrid between nonprofit and profit-making, saying just 1 percent would make it self sustaining. “In the long term, it pays for itself,” he said. “The goal is that we will not always be seeking the next donation.”

There will be a fundraiser for El Fuego del Sol from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Oct. 3 at the 4th Street Theater in Des Moines. It will include a silent auction of Haitian arts and crafts, and magic and juggling performances by Adair. For more information or tickets, go to

Adair wants to engage Americans in other ways as well. He leads eco-tours to the region and uses volunteers and interns at the sites. His project should inspire all of us to see that with imagination and enterprise, anyone can help find creative solutions to intractable world problems.


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1 thought on “Basu: His great final act: Saving the rainforest of Haiti with garbage

  1. Problem with Clinton grant.
    I believe it was not renewed and successful business venture failed.

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