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Briquettes as an alternative to fuel wood and to prevent deforestation – Kigali, Rwanda

This project employs widows and former sex workers to transform trash into energy.  This project facilitates Rwandan women, working within the environmental cooperative COOCEN, in collecting organic waste from households to produce charcoal briquettes for industrial use as an alternative to firewood.

Fast facts:

  • 4,000 households benefitted
  • 1,200 tons of firewood saved yearly (amounting to at least 9,000 trees)
  • The cooperative has become a leader in waste management nationally

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The problem

As in most developing countries, many Rwandans rely upon fuel wood for heating and cooking. Burning wood as fuel amounts to at least 80 per cent of energy consumption in Rwanda – which is resulting in massive deforestation across the country. The problem is compounded by rapid population growth.

The war and genocide in Rwanda in the mid-1990s left women particularly vulnerable, with no homes and no work. Many had been widowed, which put them in an especially difficult social position. Others turned to working in the sex industry, and some became infected with HIV/AIDS.

The solution

The Coopérative pour la conservation de l’environnement, or COOCEN, started its project “Briquettes as an alternative to fuel wood and to prevent deforestation” to address the problems of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, while providing employment opportunities for women in the Kigali area of Rwanda.

Co-sponsored by the GEF Small Grants Programme, cooperative members collect household waste, bringing it to the processing site where it is sorted. Organic material like banana peels and potato husks are laid in the sun to dry for several days before being pulverized into fine powder. This is then mixed with water and moulded into charcoal which is sold to prisons, schools, and factories as an alternative to firewood.

Helping the planet

The project not only prevents pollution by implementing better waste management, it also recycles materials that would otherwise go to waste. Since the compost briquettes are cheaper than charcoal traditionally made from wood, it’s also preventing deforestation. The compost briquettes are more efficient and burn more cleanly, preventing release of excess greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change.

Helping people

The cooperative employs 133 people, mostly women, many of whom are widows and former sex workers. Half are living with HIV. The work provides a living wage and a community to people who would otherwise be marginalized, disenfranchised and likely living in abject poverty. Such work has improved their quality of life, as well as their capacity to provide for their families.

The households where waste is collected also enjoy improved sanitary conditions. The compost briquettes are contributing to energy security in the region, while those who buy and use the efficient briquettes are able to save money.

Spillover effect

The COOCEN compost briquette project has become a demonstration site visited by hundreds from within Rwanda and abroad. The women’s resilience has inspired many other communities – other cooperatives in Kigali have already replicated the project. The project was scaled up significantly in 2011 when Rwanda’s largest waste management company began to order and promote use of the compost briquettes. This demonstrates how further growth is not only possible, but highly likely.

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