Population growth in Kyangwali refugee settlement, Western Uganda, has intensified pressure on the local environment and demand for natural resources, challenging Action Africa Help Uganda to provide an eco-friendly alternative to firewood.
Cutting trees to use as firewood and building materials significantly reduces vegetation cover which can ultimately strip soil of its nutrients and contribute to changing climate patterns.
As well as the harmful environmental impact, competition for dwindling resources forces people to travel further and further in search of firewood making women and children, to whom the task often falls, vulnerable to attack.
Spending more time away from the home can also have negative economic and educational consequences, taking time away from studying and other essential domestic chores.
AAH Uganda sought a solution to alleviate environmental pressure caused by cutting trees and to provide a safe, affordable and sustainable alternative fuel source for the Kyangwali community.
Enter the slow-burning briquette made from garbage and crop residue such as maize and beans husks, cassava peelings, dry banana leaves and saw dust; materials that are readily available within the settlement at no cost.
The waste matter is burnt, crushed, compacted and dried to create a charcoal substitute.
Evaketi Tibamwenda, a 50-year old Congolese woman, was among the first to be trained by AAH Ugandan in production of the new briquette technology.
“When I first arrived in Kyangwali I was using firewood to cook; I had a cough most of the time due to the smoke from the fire,” said Evaketi.
“It used to take a lot of time to look for firewood as it was collected from far away, and it was heavy to carry for long distances.
“Sometimes I would buy firewood but a bundle costs a lot and would be used up in four or five days. I tried to use charcoal but it wasn’t always available and was usually poor quality which burns very fast. It was also expensive; one sack only lasted for two weeks at most.
“Cooking with firewood needs constant attention as the heat reduces quickly once the wood has burnt.
“The beans provided by the World Food Program (WFP) took a long time to cook and used up a lot of wood. In the rainy season, the wet wood takes even longer to cook; it used to take much of my time to just to prepare beans for my family.
“My children often ate very late because I was struggling to look for firewood from far away and the food took so long to get ready.”
After two days of theory and practical training, Evaketi was ready to start making her own briquettes; she was immediately pleased with the results.
“I was interested in the training because the briquettes are made out of garbage. The materials are always near the house and they are ready to use in only two days. It takes less time to make briquettes than to look for wood.
“Briquettes burn for so long compared to charcoal or firewood. You can’t see that they are burning, but food cooks very fast. It also helps to keep my kitchen smart since they do not produce any smoke.
“Using briquettes I am now able to prepare the beans and maize provided by WFP in much less time which ensures I can provide porridge for my children when they need it.
“I thank AAH for this training because it has changed my way of cooking; I can now get food ready at the time when I need it.”
The briquette technology has only recently been introduced, so the long-term environmental impact has not yet been measured.
However, it is certain that the briquettes are addressing the challenge of fuel scarcity for the local community and giving women like Evaketi more time to spend on other activities.