Deforestation in Senegal
For the vast majority of people in the United States, it would be difficult to imagine a life without electricity. However, for many nations in the developing world, the primary source of energy – be it for cooking, keeping the house warm or industrial fuel – is charcoal, and the process of harvesting wood and making charcoal has created a livelihood for thousands of people around the globe.

Unfortunately for Senegal and other countries that rely heavily on charcoal production, it is also terrible for the environment. According to a statement by the United Nations Environmental Program, Africa as a whole is losing more than nine million acres of forest per year, putting the continent at nearly double the world’s average deforestation rate.

Deforestation in Senegal and the world can open the door for a host of other environmental problems. Forests are essential for maintaining local water cycles; deforested areas often see a decrease in rainfall, and experts say that the increase in droughts in East Africa in recent years are the result of heavy deforestation rates. In addition, tree roots play a role in maintaining soil by holding it in place; without tree cover, rain or wind can wash rich soil away and turn arable land barren.

Compared to the rest of the continent, Senegal is not doing too badly. An estimate by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. states that the country is about 42 percent forested land as of 2016. However, deforestation still poses a significant problem, in no small part due to the charcoal industry; more than half of Senegal’s 13 million people are still relying on charcoal for fuel and thousands of people in rural areas of Senegal have built their livelihoods on harvesting wood to make charcoal.

Flooding and the Women of Kaffrine

In Kaffrine, a region of Senegal where many families rely on charcoal, deforestation has taken its toll on the residents. In 2016, the region was scourged by heavy flooding during the summer. Heavy rain had always been common in Kaffrine during the summer months, but 2016 brought a level of flooding not seen for decades. The floods destroyed at least 100 houses and damaged at least 1,500 other homes on a massive scale. In addition, the flood waters swept away crops, resulting in farmers losing their livelihood for the year – a devastating blow in a region where agriculture is the main source of income. Experts claimed that deforestation may have been partially responsible for the flooding and that reforestation might be the key to preventing similar disasters in the coming years.

However, as deforestation in Senegal continues, the women of Kaffrine have been at the head of the movement to salvage what is left. Senegal has long considered the process of making charcoal to be men’s work, but in recent years, women have been taking the initiative to reduce the negative impact of charcoal.

The Female Forestry Association and PROGEDE 2

Part of the job is reducing the harm done through reforestation. The Female Forestry Association, led by Fily Traore, has been leading the way in this undertaking; in 2018 alone, the organization planted more than 500,000 trees in Kaffrine. One of its goals is to revive several types of fruit trees, which have become scarce in the region as forests disappear.

Furthermore, in areas which are dependent on charcoal production for money, women have played a massive role in finding other, more sustainable ways for communities to support themselves. Aside from the work of reforestation, which provides jobs for many women within the Female Forestry Association, women have been instrumental in developing alternative sources of income besides charcoal production. In particular, the village of Medina Degouye has taken huge steps toward developing horticulture; the community’s vegetable gardens not only provide food for the village, but several residents have begun selling excess produce throughout the region and even in the capital city of Dakar.

These advancements have happened partly because of the support of the United Nations’s Second Sustainable and Participatory Energy Management Project (PROGEDE 2) in Senegal. Under PROGEDE 2, women in Kaffrine are empowered to take charge of the local economy, including charcoal production and the management thereof. PROGEDE 2 also offered training in forest management, beekeeping and horticulture for men and women, allowing women to support their families while also finding alternative sources of income.

Aside from the environmental impact of charcoal, the work of PROGEDE 2 and the women of Kaffrine are addressing a much more direct result of overusing forests: if deforestation in Senegal continues, eventually nothing will be left to harvest. In addition, the long-term effects of deforestation could easily ruin life for many people in the rural areas of Kaffrine if left unchecked. However, between the work of the Female Forestry Association and the empowerment of rural women under PROGEDE 2, Senegal may be able to avert this scenario as the area sees a regrowth of its forests. The women of Kaffrine are taking the future into their own hands.

– Keira Charles
Photo: Flickr

the Economy of the Republic of BuryatiaIn the Far East of the Russian Federation lies a vast region characterized by a diversity of topographical features and a rich ancient history. The remote Republic of Buryatia increasingly serves as a regional economic powerhouse, rich in natural resources and human capital. Below are 10 facts about the economy of the Republic of Buryatia.

10 Facts About the Economy of the Republic of Buryatia

  1. The Republic of Buryatia is seeing a gradual decline in absolute population numbers. A 2016 census recorded 983,209 people in the republic in 2017. This is down from a total population of 1.02 million in 1997. A shrinking population may lead to adverse consequences for the economy of the Republic of Buryatia.
  2. Both industrial and agrarian means of production are well represented in the economy of the Republic of Buryatia. Forestry, food production, fuel and power, construction, the paper industry and the processing of both metal and wood account for the vast majority of industrial production. Mining operations explore, develop and extract coal, gold and non-magnetic metals. Agricultural operations feed much of the Russian Far East by producing dairy, meat, flour, cereals and animal feed.
  3. The cumulative value of exports from the Republic of Buryatia for the second quarter of 2017 measured approximately $374 million. A persistent decline in revenues from total exports began in 2012 though it has been subject to significant oscillations. In contrast, the republic imports $28 million worth of goods. The value of imports year to year exhibits some instability but still indicates a general decline over five successive years.
  4. The energy sector of the Republic of Buryatia relies greatly upon the region’s abundant coal reserves. Balance reserves totaling approximately 2.6 billion tons alongside deposit reserves of more than 1.1 billion tons may adequately supply the regional economy for another half-century. The government’s asset records attest to 13 brown and hard coal deposits subject to processing with another six undergoing development. 
  5. Despite the vitality of the coal sector, a decline in the demand for electricity may hinder the economy of the Republic of Buryatia. Power plants satisfy local requirements so much so that the republic exports electricity to neighboring regions like Mongolia. However, electricity consumption by the republic’s forestry and agricultural sectors remains low compared to the transport, communications and power plant sectors. Electricity use in 2017 was substantially lower than in the 1990s.
  6. In 2017, the unemployment rate was 5.2 percent of the population in Russia. That same year, unemployment in the Republic of Buryatia affected 9.6 percent of the region’s population. But this most recent statistic is part of a systematic downward trend in the region’s unemployment rate. From a high of 17.8 percent unemployment in 2003, the decline to a 9.6 percent employment rate in 2017 attests to a steady improvement in this sphere of the economy of the Republic of Buryatia.
  7. The poverty rate in the Republic of Buryatia significantly oscillates year to year, yet data indicates a general decline in poverty. In 2015, 17.9 percent of the republic’s population lived beneath the poverty line. According to data collected in 2014, the average impoverished person in the Republic of Buryatia requires an income increase of 1.9 percent to meet minimum subsistence levels. 
  8. The freshwater reservoir Lake Baikal plays an essential role in the economy of the Republic of Buryatia. Measuring 636 kilometers across and 80 kilometers wide, Lake Baikal hosts an estimated 250 unique animal species out of an approximate total of 2,500 local species. Besides the diverse biome, rich mineral deposits abound. Half a century of development in the Lake Baikal region yielded more than 700 mineral reserves. 
  9. Individually-owned farms comprise 83 percent of the Republic of Buryatia’s total crop production. By contrast, only 57 percent of the total crop production of the Russian Federation emerges from farm households. However, only 11 percent of the total land of the republic belongs to individually-owned agricultural operations.
  10. In 2015, the rural demographic of the Republic of Buryatia numbered 402,520 people. The following year, the rural demographic rose 0.29 percent to 403,698 people. The urban demographic consisted of 579,511 people in 2016, a 0.28 percent increase from the previous year. Though comprising 58.9 percent of the republic’s population, data indicates a steady decline in the urban population from 1997 onward.

Though some data indicates that the economy of the Republic of Buryatia faces considerable obstacles, the general picture of the region is one of economic vitality. As a resource-rich region with a productive population, the future may bode well for this remote corner of the Russian Federation.

Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

Fight Poverty By Improving Cooking in Africa
One of the goals in the 2015 Millennium Development Goals was to eradicate hunger and poverty. New technologies and programs are currently being developed to achieve this global challenge. One important focus of such innovations is to fight poverty by improving cooking.

A shortage of fuel and the use of biomass and kerosene for cooking both cause many health issues in Africa, such as physical ailments from collecting firewood, burns and respiratory problems due to the inhalation of deadly smoke fumes. In order to feed their families, African women in poor communities face life-threatening attacks and rape.

Furthermore, in some places where local firewood sources have been completely used up, women have to resort to digging up tree roots or travel increasingly further away from their homes in order to find firewood. The practice of cooking with wood fuel contributes to poverty in Africa by taking up time and resources families could be using to buy food and generate income. Fortunately, new technologies in Africa are making the process of cooking cleaner and more efficient.

One example is the fuel-efficient woodstove created by the global innovating charity, Practical Action. The woodstoves are easy to use, affordable and require less wood fuel. Their high sides allow for improved heat transfer. Best of all, they can be made with clay and bricks that are readily available in local communities. Practical Action has also trained more than 150 women to use its new stoves as well as to practice fuel saving methods, like using dry wood, pre-soaking beans prior to cooking, using a weighted lid and regulating the air supply to the fire.

Another initiative that is helping to fight poverty by improving cooking is the SCORE (Stove for Cooking, Refrigeration and Electricity) project. Also supported by Practical Action, the stove was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and created under the collaboration of the University of Nottingham, City University, the University of Manchester and Queen Mary and the University of London.

SCORE is a smokeless cooking stove with a generator powered by burning different kinds of biomass like wood and animal dung. It converts the generated heat to acoustical energy and then to electricity, allowing for even the waste heat to be utilized when cooking. The SCORE project aims to halve the household fuel consumption and to use local, low-cost materials as much as possible.

Other innovative efforts to fight poverty by improving cooking include introducing new construction materials, improving designs for basic cooking stoves and intermediate rocket stoves as well as enabling for more customization in design. Such efforts are led by multistakeholder initiatives such as EnDev and ProBEC, national cookstove programs as well as NGOs like GERES in Africa and Southeast Asia and HELPS in Central America.

However, reducing the combustion of solid cooking fuels, in general, is important to the health of the poor. Burning fuels like charcoal, wood and coal produce significant emissions of hazardous air pollutants (HAP) that have potential carcinogenic and other harmful effects. According to a recent World Health Organization study, HAP emissions contributed to 4.3 million premature deaths in 2012 and more than 110 million years lost due to ill-health disability or early death in 2010.

Forced draft and natural draft gasifier stoves are a promising technological solution. Their side-loaded design significantly decreases emissions without requiring the user to prepare or refill the fuel. While advanced biomass stoves are still at a very early stage for commercialization and field testing, they have the greatest potential to improve cooking health conditions.

BioLite’s patented Direct Conduction Thermoelectric System, the HomeStove, is a great example of this. Not only does it autonomously power an internal fan, but it also generates extra electricity to charge LED lights and mobile phones.

As for the renewable fuel sector, cookstoves are still in embryonic stages. They also typically remain expensive. One promising biogas digester model is that of SimGas Tanzania. It is small and custom designed for East African farmers to use by feeding in manure as its power source.

These improved cookstoves, from the cheaper ones produced by artisan collectives like GEREs and EnDev to the high-tech ones manufactured on the global mass scale, face several common challenges. The growing cost of materials and labor make it difficult for such producers to make cookstoves that the poor would be able to afford as well as to transport cookstoves where the poor would have access to them. This makes quality control and, in turn, safety additional issues. Lastly, they also lack access to capital markets.

While many improvements have been made to fight poverty by improving cooking in Africa, much still needs to be done in making improved cookstoves available to the poor.

– Connie Loo

Photo: Flickr

France to Close all Coal Power Plants
This November at an annual U.N. climate change conference, President Francois Hollande announced that by 2023, France will no longer rely on coal for any of its energy. The country already derives over 75 percent of its electricity from alternative methods and President Hollande’s announcement indicates that France is to close all coal power plants.

Coal is relatively cheap and easy, making it a popular global energy source. Today, it makes up 40 percent of the world’s energy. Coal energy also produces 39 percent of global Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Besides the heavy release of CO2 into the atmosphere, coal as an energy source is problematic in many ways. The mining and extraction process for obtaining coal can have severely detrimental effects on the environment. The process can cause the destruction of landscapes and habitats, deforestation and erosion, contamination of groundwater, air and dust pollution and the displacement of communities.

Coal mining releases methane into the atmosphere. In terms of contributing to climate change, methane is about 84 times as powerful as CO2. On top of this, coal mining is a very dangerous job and can often have harmful effects on workers’ health. Those who inhale coal dust can suffer from black lung disease, cardiopulmonary disease and hypertension.

France’s decision to close all coal power plants comes in the wake of The Paris Agreement, an agreement made between 195 countries in 2015 to set the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change.

The country has become a leader in low-carbon energy production by increasing its use of nuclear fission, which produces many more health and environmental risks than fossil fuels. The country creates so much nuclear energy that it is able to export much of it to neighboring nations, bringing in substantial domestic revenue. The decision to cut all coal energy production by 2023 will even beat the United Kingdom’s decision to do the same by two years.

The announcement shows that France is committed to the Paris Agreement and the radical changes that come along with it. The country passed a bill in September banning the use of plastic cups, silverware and dishware, which will be implemented in 2020. France is the first country in the world to pass such a law.

Countries such as Germany, Finland, the UK and Canada are following France’s example and committing to similar ecological goals. The U.S. gets about 33 percent of its energy from coal and President-elect Donald Trump has not yet outlined a plan for reducing coal production.

Overall, France’s commitment to close all coal power plants by 2030 is an example to follow. The goals of the Paris Agreement require concrete dedication to stopping climate change, and France and President Hollande recognize this.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr