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Tanzanian women save forests by turning plant waste into alternative charcoal


On a Saturday afternoon in Tanzania's port city of Dar es Salaam, a group of women were busy collecting and processing coconut shells, dried banana peels and dried cassava stalks under a scorching sun.

They were recycling these kinds of garbage, turning them into alternative charcoal.

"Our main mission in making charcoal by recycling coconut shells, dried banana peels and dried cassava stalks is to save the forests from further degradation caused by making charcoal," said Warda Omary Sera. "It discourages the use of charcoal made from forests that cause deforestation, which is harmful to our environment."

According to the Tanzania Forest Services Agency, Tanzania loses 469,420 hectares of forest annually for making charcoal and firewood.

Coconut shells. /CFP
Coconut shells. /CFP

Coconut shells. /CFP

Sera is the chairperson of a 10-member women's group called Fahari Yetu, a Kiswahili name that can be loosely translated into English as "Our Pride." The group was established in 2019 to empower them economically and started to engage in alternative charcoal-making in 2020.

The 44-year-old said the alternative charcoal the group produces has a chain of benefits, including durability, and does not produce the smoke that affects many women and their children who use charcoal made from forests.

"This charcoal can also save the health of the majority of women who use charcoal made from trees for cooking and support the government's efforts to shift to using clean energy for cooking," Sera added.

Pauline Chale, a Tanzanian medical specialist, told a clean cooking conference in November 2022 that at least 33,024 people, mostly women, die annually in Tanzania from inhaling smoke from solid cooking fuels, including charcoal and firewood.

Chale, a pulmonologist from the Muhimbili National Hospital, Tanzania's leading public health facility, said the use of charcoal or firewood is among the main causes of respiratory disease.

"Women and children are the most affected groups because they spend many hours a day in the kitchen exposed to high levels of pollutants," said Chale.

To protect the forests from further degradation caused by charcoal production and promote the use of clean energy for cooking, various organizations in Tanzania have implemented many measures to help people use clean energy.

The Tanzanian Civil Society Forum on Climate Change, an association of civil society organizations committed to addressing climate change through advocacy, and the state-owned Tanzania Industrial Research and Development Organization spared no effort to train the 10-women group to make innovative charcoal.

"We were taught to recycle the coconut shells, dried banana peels and dried cassava stalks from a food market located near our business joint and grind them to get a black-like flour mixed with hot cassava porridge," Sera said.

Noting that their main customers are their neighbors and poultry keepers who use the charcoal to heat their chicks, Sera said they can produce more than 30 kilograms of alternative charcoal per day, which they sell for 1,500 Tanzanian shillings (about 59 U.S. cents) per kilogram.

"Poultry keepers are our main customers, especially after the country had introduced electricity rationing following the drying up of hydropower dams caused by prolonged dry spells," she said.

Sera said the business also provided them with a handsome income, which they used to pay house rent, school fees, and buy clothes and food.

A forest in Tanzania. /CFP
A forest in Tanzania. /CFP

A forest in Tanzania. /CFP

According to statistics presented at the conference, biomass accounts for nearly 90 percent of primary household energy consumption in Tanzania, where 63.5 percent of households use firewood as their main source of cooking energy and 26.2 percent use charcoal.

Statistics from the Tanzanian Ministry of Energy also show that 5.1 percent of households use liquefied petroleum gas, 3 percent use electricity, and 2.2 percent use alternative energy sources.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan has directed authorities to form a national task force of experts to develop a roadmap for promoting the use of clean energy for cooking.

Hassan said the national task force, led by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa and coordinated by the Ministry of Energy, will help end the use of charcoal and firewood for cooking, which causes environmental degradation and health hazards.

The president said the task force will be assigned to ensure that 80 percent of Tanzanians use clean energy for cooking by 2030.

(Cover image via CFP)

Source(s): Xinhua News Agency
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