Empowering women through briquette making
Report by our Community and Livelihoods Research Assistant, Victor Ndombi
Forest cover in Kenya stands at about 6.8%, for us to achieve UN recommended 10% cover, we have to plant more trees and avoid illegal logging. Charcoal burning is the main source of livelihoods to many communities in Kenya, but have we thought of its negative impacts on the ecosystem and environment as a whole?
The cutting down of trees in the Sagalla area has been rampant in recent years due to reasons such as human settlement and its use as a source of energy. A majority of people use wood as a source of energy, which has results in global warming, destruction of habitats and water catchment areas; which forces women to travel for long distances in search of water.
In the pursuit of environmental conservation, the Elephants and Bees Project advocates for sustainable environmental management practices. In a bid conserve the environment, women of Mlambeni Basket Weavers Mwakoma, have shown interest in making and using briquettes as a clean source of energy. This will not only reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases, replenish the water catchment areas, it will also transform their livelihoods through the enterprise. Due to frequent elephant raids, the farmers of Mwakoma village cannot fully depend on agriculture as a source of income, but through the women’s enterprise, women can start making eco-briquettes to supplement their income. On 12th April 2019, the women of Mlambeni Basket Weavers Mwakoma visited Wildlife Works for training on how to make eco-briquettes from locally available combustible biomass.
One of the benefits of using eco-briquettes over the regular charcoal is reduced dependency on trees as a source of fuel thus protecting the environment. They burn three times longer than regular charcoal and emit less harmful gases which can cause respiratory diseases.
The process of making eco-briquettes entails sourcing of raw materials, carbonization and mixing to produce briquettes. The harvesting of materials involves pre-visiting the site and assessing the condition of the hardwood tree because of high calorific value. Dead and thick branches that may alter the movement of wild animals are marked and noted down; small trees and shrubs are preferred. 20% or 30% pruning is recommended using pruning shears because it allows the plant to make its food through photosynthesis. This is followed by chopping the harvested materials into small pieces which are left outside for a week to drain out the water and for the leaves to fall off.
The next process is carbonization. Carbonization is the process of converting a carbon-containing substance to carbon, as by partial burning. In this case, a drum with a lid is used as a carbonizer; because it doesn’t use electricity and it is readily available. The chopped materials are put into a carbonizer (the drum) and partially burned using fire for three hours. Regular charcoal is formed and left to cool in the carbonizer before being taken to the site where it is temporarily stored. The carbonizer is able to produce 30 kgs of charcoal after three hours.
A quantity of 30 kg is weighed at a time and put on a mixing tray. It is then broken down into small pieces to fit into briquette chambers. The crushed carbonized materials are mixed with 1½ binder and 20 litres of water until it is moldable. The mixture is then put into the manual briquette machine chambers and pressure exerted to them by pulling the machine handle. The briquette machines come with different designs; the ones that are able to make round blocks and rectangular blocks. The wet rectangular briquette blocks come out and are sun-dried for at least three days depending on the weather. The briquette machine can produce 300-400 briquette blocks or more per day. They are stored in a safe place, packaged in readiness for the customers
Women pulling the briquette machine to extract briquettes
Photos by Victor Ndomba