Kenya on its way to desertification!

Blog by Isaac Mwathi, March 28, 2018

While her intention was to save Kitui South Game Reserve currently threatened to extinction by illegal logging and charcoal production. Charity Ngilu, the Governor of Kitui County instead unleashed a violent storm by banning production, transportation and the sale of charcoal in her County. Following this, Kenya’s National Government also banned tree cutting for an initial period of 90 days. Since then, the charcoal sector has experienced a serious blow. In the Nairobi markets, the price of the 50 kilogram bag has escalated making it twice expensive. In parts of the city of Nairobi, such as the Mathare slum, households are now using old tires to cook. For nearly two months, the press published so many articles on the series of bans and activities that have followed. The media excitement provoked by this tragedy now seems to have subsided until the Africa Carbon Forum to be held in Nairobi next April 2018. Yet, a problem of this magnitude, affects  charcoal production and supply which is the main source energy for 82 per cent of urban households and 34 per cent of rural households according to the Kenya Forest Service .

How did we get here?

In Kenya, as the rest of the continent, biomass is the primary source of energy for the majority of both rural and urban populations. Several decades ago, in order to improve the cooking conditions of our households exposed to the inconveniences and dangers of the use of traditional sources of energy (agricultural waste, dunk cake and firewood), extensive programmes for the promotion of improved cook stoves were successfully launched allowing many households to move on the energy ladder from traditional fuels to charcoal. As a result 47 per cent of Kenyan households adopted the use of improved cook stoves.

Sequentially charcoal consumption has increased significantly, reaching 2.4 million tonnes per year. Unfortunately, there has been no attention paid to its production. In the absence of the management of the stock of biomass and supports to the charcoal sector, an informal production system with very inefficient fabrication methods that loses up to more than 85 per cent of the wood during processing emerged. The economic interests fuelled by a constantly growing demand have stimulated the growth of this informal and illegal production which has gradually penetrated most of the classified forests of the country. Furthermore, with the recent developments this has caused the enormous damage that we see today that threatens our water sources and our agricultural production system.

Is it too late?

It is difficult to find solutions to the ills that afflict our planet without integrating citizens in the solutions. This calls for development of solutions that allow sustainable use of the available biomass as source of energy for an increasingly large population, which has grown from 8.9 million people to 50 million as estimated by the Worldometers. It is therefore important to act before it is too late. Regardless of the barriers, nothing will reverse the phenomenon apart from sustainable alternatives accepted by the populations.

For almost a decade, Hivos East Africa has invested in clean energy solutions in Kenya and in several other African countries. Supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands since 2009 and by Department for International Development (DFID) through GIZ‘s Energizing Development Programme since 2015, Hivos East Africa, SNV and their national partners continue to implement bio-digesters programmes in five African countries. The Africa Biogas Partnership Programme (ABPP), which is implemented in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, is the continent’s largest bio-digesters dissemination programme. Beyond the numerical result of approximately 70,000 biogas digesters installed to date, the greatest success of this intervention is the establishment- in each of these countries- of a market sector that allows private companies to sell biogas digesters to households.

On another front, Hivos East Africa and Greening Kenya Initiative Trust (GKIT) have been working for several years to formulate a programme which aims to amplify the nascent biomass briquette sector as a viable alternative to charcoal. These briquettes are made by agricultural residues such as rice husks/coffee waste, saw dust and baggase. In view of this trajectory, a pilot phase started in March 2018 with an aim of propelling other forms of alternative energy and driving the necessary transformation in the energy sector.

Hivos East Africa is also exploring other biomass sustainable management alternatives such as bio-ethanol based on sugar molasses, which the country has great potential thanks to its sugar industry. All in all, the scope and ambition of each intervention will depend on the willingness and involvement of central and local authorities to be an integral part of the various initiatives. Carried out together and in a coordinated way, these various initiatives will surely prevent Kenya from remaining on the path of desertification as already announced by several media houses!

Want to partner with us to co-create on these innovative solutions?  You can reach out to our Programme Development Manager for Renewable Energy, Isaac Mwathi by email: imwathi@hivos.org