By Jane Okoth
The reliance of charcoal and firewood as a primary source of cooking for most households puts immense pressure on indigenous trees, which are destroyed to accommodate energy needs. The Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project area is no exception, as residents are dependent on trees for charcoal and firewood.
UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 calls for access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Following this objective, Wildlife Works has developed sustainable charcoal using pruned branches from indigenous trees, which prevents the destruction of the trees and avoids traditional charcoal production methods. The project is based at Mackinnon, approximately 35km from our Head office in Maungu.
Wildlife Works is continuing to educate communities in the REDD+ project area on the importance of sustainable charcoal and hosts different groups and individuals to learn about the project. Recently, Marere Arts, a basket weaving women group from Marungu, visited the eco-charcoal team on site. Marere Arts works closely with Hadithi, a Community Based Organisation in the Kasigau Corridor project area.
Upon arrival to the production site, the Eco-charcoal team, led by Constance Mademu, welcomes the women. Constance and her team members are no strangers to the charcoal business and she is not ashamed to share her story with the group. “All of us here are reformed criminals” she says. “To fend for our families, we were once into the notorious charcoal burning,” she recalls. Constance was once apprehended by Wildlife Works rangers and was let off with a stern warning. She was overjoyed when Wildlife Works later contacted her for a job offer. Now left with the responsibility of protecting trees rather than destroying them, Constance is not shy of speaking up against deforestation. “I will not relent in teaching my fellow community on the importance of trees,” she says.
After the introduction, Constance leads the group into identifying a good spot for pruning branches and assessing the condition of the tree. “We have to prune it in a sustainable manner leaving a pathway and food for small animals like hares and dikdiks” explains Constance.
After collecting a generous number of branches, she puts them in an open area to dry, which can take up to two weeks. What follows is the carbonization process where a drum kiln is used to burn the pruned branches for three hours. The burnt charcoal is left to cool and later kept in one of the storage rooms. A binder made of inedible cassava flour is poured and put into the mixing tray together with the charcoal. The mixed charcoal is put into the brick-making machine for pressing. It was exciting to see the ladies helping to press out the briquettes and order them once finished. The briquettes are then packaged and sold local communities and institutions for 10 KSH each.
“We want to acquire skills from sustainable projects such as the eco-charcoal because we believe these skills will empower us to be self-reliant,” says Peris Mbeyu, Marere Arts Chairlady.
“The advantage of the eco-charcoal is that it is way cheaper than the regular charcoal and even lasts longer when cooking. One briquette is enough to make a meal for up to 5 people and warm bathing water,” says Constance.
Wildlife Works is encouraging communities living in the Kasigau Corridor to adopt the eco-charcoal method. This is not only an affordable alternative to the regular destructive charcoal but also a way of protecting Kenyan forests which would otherwise be cut down for charcoal or firewood production. Wildlife Works Eco-charcoal project is happy to have Constance and her team educate fellow community members on the importance of trees to our eco-system.