Feb 22, 2016

Msambweni Charcoal Producers demonstrate how a portable metal kiln is used.

For every 1 in 2 households in urban areas and every 1 in 3 households in the rural areas, charcoal is the key source of domestic energy. A study on this important bioenergy resource; Exploring the Potential for Sustainable Charcoal Sector in Kenya, revealed that about 1 million people are employed in the charcoal industry with over double the number of dependents. The charcoal production value chain involves producers, transporters and charcoal vendors, who operate under a streamlined legal framework that seeks to mitigate degradation of the environment through sustainable charcoal production. 

UNDP in partnership with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) has been training charcoal producers in charcoal producing counties to adopt new technologies that in addition to conserving the environment are cheap and easy to implement.

In Msambweni, Kwale County, 30 charcoal producers were the beneficiaries of this wholesome weeklong training. The producers who have been using traditional earth kilns, where wood is arranged on the ground, covered with leaves and soil then lit and takes about 2 to 3 days before the charcoal is ready, were introduced to the vertical drum kiln – that is made from an ordinary oil drum, modified by welding a short metal pipe that acts as a chimney.  Dried branches of the same size are systematically arranged vertically into the drum, which is then covered before a fire is lit from the bottom. The horizontal drum kiln is similar to the vertical drum, only that the wood is placed horizontally, and covered with soil. For the portable metal kiln, the dried wood is stacked together in the kiln which has four air inlets and four chimneys at the bottom to ensure proper air circulation.  On average, these new methods take around 6 – 14 hours, significantly reducing the time of production when compared to the traditional earth kiln. 

These new methods also promise to reduce on wastage. While the researched standards guarantee a return of 250 kgs of charcoal for every 1000 kgs of wood used when using modern techniques such as the metal kilns, with the traditional earth kiln, producers are only able to get 120 – 180 kgs. 

Excited by this newly acquired knowledge, a beneficiary Chizi Kilango was relieved that she can now go about her source of livelihood with more ease and still expect great returns, “This training has taught me that charcoal production does not have to be so tiresome. I am only 35 but have led a tired life for over 15 years now. I started out by helping my parents and now my children help me out when they are not in school. I would worry about them. But from this training, I am hopeful that if they decide to take up the business full time, I will have taught them these new methods and they will enjoy their work”

Chizi is not alone. Ndegwa Katembo also found new hope in the training, “I was afraid that I would have to give up charcoal producing because I am aging. But with the new production methods I will be able to produce charcoal for many more years. These methods are kinder to our bodies when compared to the traditional methods we have been using and promise to give us almost double what we have been getting in production”

The training not only focuses on the issues of production but participants are also educated on  methods of sustainable harvesting and field management of tree resources for sustainable charcoal production, challenges and opportunities for the production and marketing of their products, policies in forestry, environment and allied natural resources and leadership skills. 

Nelly Oduor from KEFRI notes preceding trainings contributed to the creation of this dynamic and comprehensive training program. “We had to go back to the drawing board; teaching production alone is not good enough. It is only when we have exhausted all issues surrounding the production of charcoal will we be able to sustainably produce it. Anybody can make charcoal, but what this training does is ensure that by the end of the week we not only have newly skilled charcoal producers but a group of people who are competent in diverse issues for example communication and leadership.”

A trainee, Masai Chamoto commended the diversity of the lessons, “I especially enjoyed the lesson on governance. We are producing groups and a producing association and it is very important that we understand that although we have our individual differences, we are all working towards the same goal. The leaders of the groups have been challenged to be open and transparent in their communication and seek active feedback from their group members even as the members were asked to accommodate everyone’s opinions and support their leaders.

Another trainee, Eunice Wambua was quick to remind participants on the importance of accountability in ensuring that the skills acquired during the training are not lost, “Monitoring and evaluation is very important. We want to be sure that this is not just another great training. In the next CPA meeting, I will suggest an inter wards monitoring system, where different groups visit each other to monitor whether there’s implementation of what has been taught here. That way, we will be accountable to each other without bias.”

Vision 2030 aims to raise the tree cover to 10%. However, many charcoal producers continue to fell down whole trees for charcoal production. If this trend continues, the country may not achieve the desired tree cover. It is for this reason that the training also tackled woodland management where the trainees were taught that branches too can make good charcoal. 

“For many years we thought that to have the best charcoal we needed to have the thickest log. Interestingly, once the log is chirred we end up breaking it into small pieces to fit into our jikos. This training has been an eye opener; we now know that branches make equally good if not better charcoal, and with branches we are assured that we will not deplete our trees,” remarked Luphande Bora.

On the last day of the training, through facilitation from UNDP, each group represented was given the different types of kilns as a starter in the new production methods before they can acquire their own. The one week exercise brought together 30 people from different groups within the producers’ association, who after the training, are expected to teach the other members of their groups.  In Msambweni, group membership ranges from around 200 – 400 members. This training targeted six groups of the Msambweni Charcoal Producers Association.

UNDP’s Output 2 of the UN Joint Project on Climate Change seeks to ensure the promotion of renewables and sustainable biomass production in Arid and Semi-Arid lands. This is through supporting the development of a charcoal framework that can be further developed by the Government into a full-fledged Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action priority.  

In this regard, the adoption of sustainable charcoal technologies and practices will greatly contribute to improvement of the quality of livelihoods for communities relying on this industry, while conserving the ecosystems and managing the emissions, mainly accelerated by the charcoal producing sector.



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