In 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