18 December 2012

Rwanda: Charcoal Burning Technology to Help Check Gas Emissions

Nyamagabe — DOZENS of trucks loaded with charcoal leave various parts of Nyamagabe district in the Southern Province every day.

Charcoal is a common source of cooking energy in most households, especially in urban areas.

Many hectares of forests in this area are destroyed every day, consequently leading to environmental degradation.

That has caused an outcry among environmentalists who have advocated for the use of other sources of energy to save the environment.

But another area of concern is the production process.

Experts say the traditional way of producing charcoal is more harmful to the environment due to high carbon monoxide emissions during the burning process.

Though communities are being sensitised to diversify sources of energy and reduce the use of charcoal, and firewood, it remains clear that most Rwandans do not have other affordable ways of cooking.

And in these conditions, limiting the levels of gases emitted through the burning process is seen as one way of reducing the risks of environmental degradation.

A local cooperative involved in charcoal production in Nyamagabe district is among those working on developing new techniques to reduce the amount of gases emitted through the charcoal burning process.

The Professional Charcoal Burners Cooperative (PCMC), in partnership with International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC), has embraced a new modern process which reduces the amount of gas emitted while burning charcoal.

With the new method, before woods are piled up, a protective layer of grass is put on soil to prevent harming materials from penetrating it during the burning process.

The pile of wooden logs, which is essentially placed in a circle, leans against a chimney to control gas emission. The logs are then covered with grass, soil and lit.

Throughout the burning process, a by-product of wood tar is collected and prevented from getting into the soil.

Though the amount of contained greenhouse gases emissions is not yet clear, officials maintain the practice is reducing carbons sent in the air compared to the traditional burning process.

Théogene Ndayambaje, an expert and trainer working with IFDC, says embracing the new techniques would limit the negative effects of charcoal burning on the environment.

"Apart from controlling and limiting carbon monoxide in the air, the modern techniques also contribute to limiting the pace of deforestation as produced charcoals last longer than the traditional ones," he says.

With the modern technique, a stère (one cubic metre) of wood can produce up to three sacks of charcoal, up from between one and one and half sacks, which are produced through the traditional process, Ndayambaje says.

Silas Sekamana, a charcoal maker in Kitabi sector, Nyamagabe district, told this newspaper that he adopted the new technique after spending almost 12 years in the field.

"The traditional ways were costing us a lot, in terms of environmental degradation and revenue," he said.

After attending a workshop on the modern practices, Sekamana says he is equipped with basic skills about the new techniques and hopes his cooperative will reap big.

With the aim of helping local residents adopt the modern methods, the PCMC organises routine trainings for local charcoal producers in Nyamagabe districts.

Last week, for instance, 43 members of a local cooperative, KODUATIKIU, benefited from the initiative and skills.

During a recent interview, Nyamagabe district Vice Mayor in charge of economic affairs, Immaculee Mukarwego, told The New Times that the new techniques were also contributing to the economic growth in the district.

"People involved in these activities are producing more quantities than before and when their revenues grow, the district grows along," she said.

Nyamagabe district is among the top producers of charcoal in the country and many individuals there survive by churning out or selling charcoal.

"If we produce long lasting charcoal, it means we will have a lot of buyers, a very competitive price and of course our residents will benefit. By limiting gas emission in the air, we protect our environment," Mukarwego said.

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