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 nation.
- 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 greenhouse gases
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 resources.
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 wood.
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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