DR Congo: How women are making money from charcoal alternative

Most families in northern DRC’s Tshopo province, can’t afford electricity to cook. Instead, they rely on locally-produced wood charcoal to feed their families.

Prosper Matondo is an environmental technician at a Belgian development agency called Enabel. He says that more than 200,000 bags of charcoal are sold daily in the markets of Kisangani, DRC.

He adds that the high demand is causing deforestation and making charcoal unaffordable.

Helene Masika Bina, 38, says that until recently, her cooking expenses were spiraling out of control.

She explains, “Every two weeks, I had to buy a bag of charcoal for 20,000 francs (about $10 US), and this costs me too much money.”

In February 2020, Mrs. Bina and 63 other women in Kisangani learned to make a charcoal alternative known locally as makalayabumba.

They make clean-burning briquettes from household waste such as charcoal dust, clay, and brewing wastewater—ingredients she has at home.

Mrs. Bina produces the briquettes, uses them to cook at home, and sells some. She sells 15 briquettes at a time for a total of 100 Congolese francs ($0.05 US).

She says, “With this briquette production initiative, I’ll be able to cut my expenses.”

Mrs. Bina first learned to make the briquettes at a workshop run by Enabel in August, 2020. To make the briquettes, she mixes the ingredients, rolls them into small balls, and bakes them in the heat of the sun.

With charcoal costs and deforestation rising, the briquettes offer a more environmentally-friendly way to cook. Mrs. Bina says one briquette can provide heat for 45 minutes.

Eugénie Baruti, 41, sells rice at Kisangani’s central market. She says buying charcoal is a struggle. Just one bag costs 1,000 francs ($0.50 US).

She adds, “Using the briquettes made by those women, I don’t think I have to spend 1,000 francs on charcoal anymore.”

The workshop participants also learned how demand for charcoal increases deforestation.

Mrs. Bina says: “Apart from contributing to cutting costs, this initiative helps combat the problem of deforestation, which has become a serious environmental challenge.”

Pascal Oketa Kasili, 53, has produced charcoal since 1991. He says, “I don’t think this briquette initiative will interfere with my job.”

Mr. Oketa says that deforestation can’t be blamed on charcoal production alone. He says, “Other large trees are being cut down and sold for other purposes.”

But research from the Central African Forest Initiative shows that 96% of the wood harvested in DRC is used for fuel.

Antoine Ekoko is a government environmental engineer. He says that cutting down large trees can lead to reduced rainfall and threaten supplies of clean water.

A report from the U.S. Agency for International Development in 2018 attributed drying patterns in countries as far away as Mali and Ethiopia to deforestation in the Congo Basin.

Mr. Ekoko says tree-cutting should be limited by enforcing a strict calendar to prevent further deforestation.

He says, “We need to harmonize and not cut the trees in an unplanned fashion as our manufacturers currently do.”

Source: Farm Radio International

(This story is based on an article written by François Mbuyi Mutombo and published by Global Press Journal in February 2020, titled “Women Make Fuel From Waste and Benefit Environment.” To read the full story, go to: https://globalpressjournal.com/africa/democratic-republic-of-congo/cut-costs-prevent-deforestation-drc-women-make-fuel-household-waste/ )

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