how-the-rainforests-waste-is-used-to-produce-sustainable-energy-in-congoIn Congo’s easterly city of Bukavu, Bavon Mubake, a 62-year-old recent retiree, is helping to provide cheap, sustainable energy to the community while conserving Congo’s forests. By creating fuel pellets through reused waste, Mubake has set an example of how to produce sustainable energy in Congo.

Producing Sustainable Fuel Pellets

With plenty of energy and enthusiasm to spare, Mubake provided the spark to change his community for the better. The process begins with collecting waste such as leaves, maize stalks and cardboard. This mixture is soaked, dried and ground into a powder, which is then combined with sawdust to mold into energy-giving briquettes that communities can rely on for fuel.

“This work helps me to educate my children, to have food on the table and also to have enough to buy clothes and other things,” Mubake explains in an interview with Reuters.

Mubake’s work presents a lifeline for those in communities that have limited or no access to energy. According to Our World in Data, as of 2020, access to electricity sat at 19.1% across Congo. A lack of access to energy contributes to poverty in the nation. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2018, 73% of the population in Congo experienced extreme poverty.

Mubake and other retirees like him create the sustainable fuel pellets at Bukavu’s Rehabilitation Center for the Elderly. Three months into operation, the center produces an average number of 2,000 briquettes on a weekly basis. The sale of the briquettes produced by Mubake and the other retirees provides a source of income for the group.

Protecting Congo’s At-Risk Environment

The briquettes look to provide a sustainable alternative to the more traditional means of energy usage in Bukavu — locals cut down trees in the national park to use as charcoal. With the considerably low price of the sustainable briquettes made from waste standing at just $0.05, there is hope that efforts such as these, spearheaded by locals within the community, will help to reduce the dependency on Congo’s natural abundance of forest.

Dependence and depreciation of Congo’s natural forests are also fuelled by the abundance of high-value resources. According to World Wildlife Fund, “The Congo Basin is abundant in natural resources such as timber, diamonds and petroleum, but current methods and rates of extracting these resources are unsustainable and threaten the future of this vast wilderness area.”

Mubake’s innovation presents a solution to a much more significant problem that Congo faces, as the preservation and security of the Congo Basin are constantly under threat. On top of the ever-growing demand for natural resources across the Congo Basin, mass agricultural projects particularly in the region of South Kivu, home to Bukavu, present a genuine threat to wildlife due to deforestation.

According to data provided by Global Forest Watch, in a 20-year-period from 2001 to 2021, Congo lost “34% of its total tree cover loss.” Tree cover across the Congo Basin not only helps to deal with the absorption of harmful emissions but provides a home to countless unique and endangered animals such as the eastern lowland gorilla.

Ensuring protection for endangered species such as the eastern lowland gorilla is vital to annual tourism as thousands of tourists every year travel to Congo to experience one of the nation’s greatest spectacles. Not only do attractions such as the eastern lowland gorilla help to further Congo’s economy but they also help to provide employment for impoverished people within the community.

Through the efforts of Bukavu’s elderly, access to energy in Bukavu, while not universal as yet, is heading toward a promising goal. Hope remains that such actions will set a precedent for how communities can produce sustainable energy in Congo through initiative.

James Garwood
Photo: Flickr

Envirofit Cookstoves According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “more than three billion people worldwide rely on polluting energy sources such as wood, dung and charcoal for cooking.” These practices are most common in impoverished areas within developing countries and come with severe health consequences. As women are usually tasked with the cooking responsibilities, the indoor air pollution caused by cooking with these traditional fuels disproportionately impacts women as well as children in the household. A social enterprise called Envirofit International aims to make clean cookstoves more accessible and affordable for families living in developing nations.

Polluting Fuels and Gender Inequality

Cooking with polluting energy sources not only leads to serious health repercussions but also contributes to economic gender inequality. Girls and women are the main gatherers of these polluting energy sources, which require more than twice as much time to gather in comparison to clean fuels. Girls from households that use polluting fuels spend roughly 18 hours per week collecting fuel in contrast to five hours a week for those from households that utilize clean energy sources. This time could go toward more productive activities such as learning and paid work. As a result, girls and women fall behind in education and economic advancement.

Health and Economic Repercussions of Indoor Air Pollution

According to the WHO, annually, almost four million people die prematurely as a result of household air pollution caused by “inefficient cooking practices using polluting stoves paired with solid fuels and kerosene.” Indoor air pollution can cause ischaemic heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and pulmonary disease. Indoor pollution increases the risk of pneumonia in children by 50% and “is responsible for 45% of all pneumonia deaths in children” younger than 5. Gathering traditional fuels, a task typically performed by women and children can lead to musculoskeletal damage due to the arduous nature of this task.

Envirofit Cookstoves

Envirofit International works to replace dangerous and harmful traditional cooking methods with clean biomass cookstoves that are efficient, durable and inexpensive. The enterprise is headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since its incorporation in 2003, Envirofit has manufactured and commercialized smart stoves that cook faster, use less fuel and produce less smoke and toxic emissions. Envirofit cookstoves reduce “fuel use, fuel cost and cooking time by up to 60%” and decrease smoke and harmful emissions by up to 80%. These fuel savings alone can increase household income by up to 15% a year.

Using a market-based approach, Envirofit has helped more than five million people in 45 nations around the world save money and time while also reducing their carbon footprint. Envirofits’s clean, pollution-free technology has saved lives by reducing preventable deaths due to pollution. Envirofit cookstoves feature efficient combustion chambers to decrease emissions and utilize biomass fuel, which is accessible for people in rural communities.

With regional headquarters and production sites in East Africa, West Africa, Asia and Latin America, Envirofit can deliver local solutions tailored to each region’s specific needs. Each regional headquarter also contributes to the local economy by providing new employment and business opportunities. Besides creating jobs and making cooking safer, more convenient and affordable, Envirofit promotes sales by conducting local awareness campaigns about the effects of air pollution on health.

Overall, Envirofit cookstoves contribute to the health and well-being of millions of impoverished people across the world, saving lives, time and money.

Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr

Bamboo in MalawiIn Malawi, 90% of Malawians do not have access to electricity or other forms of energy. Lack of access to energy sources forces Malawians to rely on firewood. As deforestation has become widespread, rural Malawians needed a new and improved source of fuel. The bamboo initiative implemented by Afribam, USAID and the Peace Corps provides a solution. Bamboo in Malawi provides an alternative fuel source to help millions get access to energy.

Bamboo as an Alternative

Bamboo in Malawi is a beneficial and valuable fuel source. Malawians use bamboo, a wood-like plant, for many activities such as cooking, building furniture and housing materials. Malawians, especially in rural areas, rely on bamboo because of deforestation, making it difficult for rural Malawians to access firewood. Locals must travel a great distance to reach forests that are still intact. Additionally, buying firewood can be costly.

Deforestation: Causes and Effects

Lack of access to electricity leads to overconsumption of firewood. Because of the reliance on firewood, deforestation is widespread throughout Malawi. Forests take years to replenish, meaning the consumption of wood is greater than the rate at which trees can grow back. Furthermore, the lack of access to electricity leads to an overconsumption of firewood, which leads to deforestation. Deforestation creates negative effects throughout Malawi. The effects of deforestation in Malawi include:

  • Increased soil erosion
  • Excess flooding
  • More droughts than normal
  • Decreased crop productivity
  • Lack of fuel access for rural Malawians
  • Malawians are forced to travel further to obtain firewood

Deforestation can cause many complications. It is important to ease the consumption of fuelwood and allow Malawi’s forests to regenerate to prevent harmful effects. Bamboo in Malawi provides an alternative fuel source that can counter the effects of deforestation and help alleviate poverty.

The Power of Collaboration

To solve fuel problems in Malawi, USAID’s Feed the Future Malawi Agriculture Diversification Activity program began a collaboration in February 2019 with AfriBam and the Peace Corps Volunteers to implement bamboo as a fuel alternative. AfriBam is a Malawian company that specializes in bamboo and bamboo-related technology in Africa.

Together, USAID, AfriBam and the Peace Corps distributed Dendrocalamus asper, a non-invasive species of bamboo, throughout Malawi to counteract the effects of deforestation and provide Malawians with adequate fuel. The reason Dendrocalamus asper is special is that this type of bamboo only takes five to seven years to mature, and it can be harvested after just three years. This means that the bamboo will be able to replenish itself well enough to provide an ongoing fuel supply, eliminating the fear of overconsumption. Throughout 2019, the collaboration reached 1,750 rural Malawian households and distributed more than 180,000 bamboo seedlings.

The Peace Corps revealed that its goal is for Malawians to use the bamboo, in the short term, as a source of cooking fuel, which will ease the pressure on forests so that the forests can recover. USAID believes that this species of bamboo will be more successful than some other fuel projects implemented in Malawi. Previously, rural Malawians received cookstoves that used firewood as fuel, but because of deforestation, the implementation of cookstoves was not successful. USAID is confident that by 2025 the species of bamboo will account for 20% of fuelwood for all of Malawi.

Looking Forward

The new species of bamboo in Malawi will bring a unique type of fuel to rural Malawians. This development is advantageous because deforestation of firewood led to several unforeseen complications. With the help of AfriBam, USAID and the Peace Corp Volunteers’ collaboration, bamboo will help poverty reduction in Malawi by providing Malawians with a reliable fuel source.

– Bailey Lamb
Photo: Flickr