Fire Briquettes as a Mitigation Strategy for Vulnerable Grassroots Communities -
A Masaai community in Kenya is turning organic trash into useful charcoal. “Fire Briquettes
as a Mitigation Strategy for Vulnerable Grassroots Communities” produces an alternative
energy source to wood that is cut for fuel from the Mau Forest in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The
project aims to help preserve the forest ecology, which is a vital freshwater source for the
- Mau Forest forms the headwaters of 12 major Kenya rivers
- Partners include Kenya agencies, farmers adjacent to the forest, wood extractors, tea
plantation owners, and hydropower entitites
- Women use or sell organic charcoal for burning as an alternative to wood, releasing fewer
Masaai in the arid Narok region of Kenya are largely nomadic pastrolists, who are vulnerable to drought
that kills off livestock. Land in the area is highly degraded, while the local Mau Forest has been severely
impacted by logging for timber, production of charcoal, and gathering of firewood to cook food.
The forest is among Kenya’s wettest, and acts as a vital water catchment area and headwaters for
numerous rivers – so destruction of it has grave consequences for the nation’s freshwater
Masaai women in the region first came together to form the Olmusaakwa tree nursery group, which with the
help of the Green Belt Movement aims to rehabilitate the
Mau Forest through production of seedlings. Building on that project, women in the current initiative are
making charcoal briquettes from waste paper and dry leaves.
The materials are soaked in water and turned into a paste, which is then pressed into briquettes in
locally-made machines. Women can then use or sell the organic charcoal for burning as an alternative to
Helping the planet
Not only do the briquettes recycle waste that could otherwise end up polluting the environment, they also
burn cleaner than firewood, releasing less greenhouse gases. Using briquettes as an alternative energy
source reduces wood-cutting that is contributing to deforestation. This allows trees to remain standing as
carbon sinks, which prevents further climate change. Since the Mau Forest is such a vital watershed in
Kenya, preventing further deforestation is also helping conserve precious water resources.
Through the project, women are gaining – and providing – access to an alternative form of
energy over wood. This is making women’s lives easier, as they’re no longer spending hours
gathering firewood for heating and cooking. Since the briquettes burn cleaner than wood, the project is
also helping improve health by reducing smoke in kitchens. The largely semi-literate women producing the
briquettes are able to get some income through sale of some of the briquettes locally, helping them get a
leg up economically.
The group has plans to make the project even more commercially viable, both for themselves and for other
communities in the region. Women are training other groups there, who can then replicate the project.
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