Category Archives: alternative charcoal

The Changing Face of Shimoni East

Typical charcoal pit in Shimoni Forest East

Typical charcoal pit in Shimoni Forest East

Being a person of very little spatial awareness, and lacking any sense of direction, right from our very first few trips into the forest I was hugely impressed by the knowledge of the staff and the ease with which they found their way around.  Imagine my surprise then, when last week we found ourselves in a state of confusion, in seemingly unfamiliar territory.  This is the sad fact of Shimoni East: it is changing so rapidly that a trail you have walked a dozen times can become almost unrecognisable in a matter of days.

The threats to the forest occur on several fronts.  All along the coast land is being bought up by developers and cleared with plans to build hotels, some of which are already under construction.  New sections of barbed wire fence are going up daily; some mark the edges of developers’ plots, and it would seem that others indicate locals staking a claim for possible retail space opposite.  The most substantial fence currently cuts off the last few sections of most of our six surveying transects, and the three new roads (which may be for access or a preliminary to wider clearing) which have sprung up in the last couple of weeks also cut across the eastern end of several transects.  Along the northern side of the forest, the greatest disturbance is the frequent appearance of new charcoal pits.  These are illegal, of which the locals are well aware, but since the entire village uses charcoal for cooking, they feel they have no choice in order to survive.  One of the main problems is that it is very inefficient: seventy percent of the energy is lost straight away in the process.  Plus, everybody understands the fact that this is unsustainable, given the rate at which the forest is disappearing.  Elsewhere throughout the forest trees are regularly disappearing as poles and timber for construction or firewood.

The implications of the shrinking of the forest on its wildlife are clear.  The Colobus monkeys, for example, are almost exclusively arboreal; without sufficient high canopy they will be restricted in movement, and therefore food resources and resting places.  As a general rule, the size of the forest determines the health of the Colobus community.  It is possible that if developers leave the very tallest and largest trees, and build around them, the Colobus community will not be too badly affected.  However, there is no guarantee that this will happen, and, in any case, the clearing of the smaller trees and undergrowth is disastrous for the biodiversity of the region.  For example, the rare Zanj Elephant Shrew relies on undergrowth and leaf litter for foraging and nest building, and as this species is endemic to Kenyan coastal forest, this is one of the few areas of habitat still remaining.  Essentially, the unsustainability of the forest use is such that eventually it will disappear, and there will be no wildlife at all.  The locals who rely on the forest will then also lose their means for survival, so it really is a lose-lose situation.

GVI’s continual monitoring of the area provides more and more evidence for it being a biodiversity hotspot, and thus the more likely it becomes that Kenyan Wildlife Services will decide to protect the area.  This would be a greatly positive step for the forest, but support needs to be given to the local communities who rely on their current use of the forest.  This is why the work that GVI is doing in the forest and with the community is so valuable.  By promoting sustainable development the community can find ways to utilise the forest for economic growth.  One such area is ecotourism; we are working with Friends of Shimoni Forest in order to train guides and market tours of the forest.  We have also helped establish a group of locals who are promoting use of an alternative charcoal press, which uses waste paper, food waste, forest debris and so forth to produce fuel blocks in a much more efficient process (for details on the press see these entries).  Another initiative involves promoting group farming of the casuarinas tree to produce a sustainable and more efficient harvest of poles for construction.

When a tree falls in the forest perhaps it only makes a sound if someone is there to hear it.  Luckily we are here and we are listening.  The changes occurring in Shimoni East are observable on a daily basis, but hopefully the work we are doing will enable the local community to effect some positive change and allow the forest to become a sustainable resource and natural treasure.

– Miriam

Training Ends – And A Group Is Formed

So with Mwenge whipping up a replicate press in a morning, we headed back to Anziwani to start the last few days of training. Koppa, one of the trainees, and also a Friends of Shimoni guide, had made a bet with Mwenge. Koppa believed that the press would break, and Mwenge said that there was no chance of that happening. So 100ksh was put down on the table, and Koppa definitely tried his hardest to test the limits of the press in the next few days!

Mwenge the carpenter with the second press

Mwenge the carpenter with the second press

Over the whole training several combinations of raw material were briquetted. Cardboard that had been shredded into small pieces, and soaked in water for 2 weeks, was pounded and brought into the mix during the last few days.

The new press in action

The new press in action

So the final practical day ended, and we had one in-tact press and a total of 140 briquettes made! The briquettes that contained charcoal fines in any percentage were definitely the favorite, simply for the fact that they do look very similar to charcoal.

Some of the briquettes that were made during the training

Some of the briquettes that were made during the training

The last day came, and we had 9 of our trainees there, with the other sending their apologies for not being able to attend. The opening to the day was led with a prayer, and then we moved on to the topic of the day “What is the next step?” By going round the room, Isaiah asked each person, what they thought the next step was. It was a unanimous vote, to start a group.

The agenda for the final day, written on the blackboard

The agenda for the final day, written on the blackboard

The election began, and there was a slight delay as two of the trainees were put forward for Chairman. This caused a little bit of a ruckus, but in a positive way. The problem some of the trainees had was that they believed that Hamisi and the other Friends of Shimoni Forest guides, should not be elected as key members of the group. They believed that as the training was for charcoal burners, the group should be lead by charcoal burners, in creating an alternative to charcoal. So everyone agreed, and the committee was elected.

As we headed back to Shimoni, we were all was extremely happy with the group’s decisions. Making a group was the best outcome Friends of Shimoni Forest could have got from setting up the training in biomass fuel briquettes. The road in front of us seemed bright, but of course we would have to be ready for the inevitable bumps and glitches that any new group has to overcome to succeed.

Matata, the chairman of Friends of Shimoni Forest says a few words at the end of the day

Matata, the chairman of Friends of Shimoni Forest says a few words at the end of the day

Another Minor Crack On The Road To Briquetting

The alternative to charcoal training workshop in Anziwani had now been running for 5 days. The attendance of all the trainees had been excellent, with pretty much everyone turning up each day, and we had successfully made the first sample biomass fuel briquettes! However it hadn’t been all smooth running…. The press had shown some weaknesses and the dividers hadn’t handled the force of the jack. But these problems had been dealt with thanks to the help of several local fundis (craftsmen), and we were still moving forward. Not to say that would be the end of the obstacles!

Lawama, one of the trainees holding a briquette made during the training

Lawama, one of the trainees holding a briquette made during the training

The afternoon of the 4th day, we were able to pick up the new metal dividers, ready for briquetting. The next day Isaiah decided that the best plan of action would be to continue with preparation, so that all the raw materials would be ready to use, and we could briquette non stop for the rest of the training days.  The collecting, shredding, pounding, sieving and mixing, continued.

Preparing soaked cardboard

Preparing soaked cardboard

So with all the materials prepared over the past two days, you couldn’t stop the trainees from briquetting at the start of day 6! As people were arriving, the equipment was being set up. The metal dividers looked okay from what we could see, but the real test was when we started to briquette.

The group cracking on with briquetting

The group cracking on with briquetting

The dividers must slip through the PVC pipe perfectly, plus the centre hole of the divider must be completely central to allow the inner pipe to pass through. If the divider is also too small it will reduce the ease in which the briquettes separate.  The mould was loaded and then compressed. Today we were making the briquettes with sawdust combinations. The first combo was sieved sawdust and paper that had been soaking for about two weeks.

The sawdust and paper combination briquettes

The sawdust and paper combination briquettes

When the team got to the ejection stage, the process wasn’t moving incredibly smoothly. We discovered that some of the dividers must have been getting wedged in the PVC. This led to it becoming a rather tiring and time consuming stage in the whole process. We managed to select two dividers that were sliding through the best, and continue briquetting, until… a very loud crack came from the press. It had split again, the original wood used for the frame had a weak spot where there was a knot in the wood – unfortunately exactly where it needed to be extremely strong.

The original frame cracking due to a knot in the wood

The original frame cracking due to a knot in the wood

The group appeared not to be phased by this, and discussion began on the best way to approach the problem. We planned to visit our friend, Mwenge at his carpentry workshop to have a replicate made with hardwood, before training the next day. So some might have lost interest with all these hiccups, but the group seemed to embrace them and in some way become even more enthusiastic about briquetting the following day!

Their dedication and tenacity is often inspiring!  We’ll bring you the continuation of this epic undertaking soon…

The Key To Briquetting – It’s All About Preparation

After leaving Anziwani, from the third day of the alternative to charcoal training workshop, we headed straight to Mwenge’s workshop (a local carpenter). We showed him where the press had cracked, and decided (with the help of our resident architect, Carolyn, a volunteer from GVI) where to reinforce it. We then moved on to another workshop in search of a metal fundi. Unfortnately he wasn’t around, so we planned to visit him the next morning.

We woke up bright and early and headed to the metal fundi. We explained what we needed, and he got started on the rather tricky job of making perfectly round dividers made from metal, with limited tools. However, electricity was not on our side and the power cut out. So we had to head up to Anziwani empty handed.

The local metal fundi (craftsman) replicating the plastic dividers

The local metal fundi (craftsman) replicating the plastic dividers

 

The local metal fundi (craftsman) at work

The local metal fundi (craftsman) at work

As we had successfully made some briquettes the day before, the whole group just wanted to keep going! So when we turned up with the bad news of the dividers not being ready, everyone was a little upset. However raw materials needed to be prepared, so we cracked on.

Isaiah explaining the importance of proper preparation

Isaiah explaining the importance of proper preparation

So the agenda was preparation. More pounding of the dry mango leaves had to be done so one group started on that. Isaiah wanted the group to see for themselves, the difference and effect it can have when you remove the stalk and when you leave them on. So more competitions of clapping and pounding continued!

Sambarare and Nassir pounding dried mango leaves

Sambarare and Nassir pounding dried mango leaves

The charcoal dust we had sorted the previous day had left us with a bag full of pieces of whole charcoal. To use it for the training process, we had to make it into fine dust, so a bag and large piece of wood was located and charcoal bashing began!

Mwingi bashing the charcoal in to dust

Mwingi bashing the charcoal in to dust

The sawdust that GVI had collected was then sieved using a mosquito net, so that we collected only the very fine particles. Due to there being a few holes in the net, a couple of us started on patching them up. If we had access to a millet grinder this would be have been a lot easier as it would grind all the particles down and nothing would be wasted. Unfortunately we did not, so we sieved the particles out manually.

Sieving sawdust using a mosquito net

Sieving sawdust using a mosquito net

As we headed home to Shimoni, we had our fingers crossed that the electricity would be back on, so we could continue briquetting tomorrow!

Walking back from Anziwani Village at the end of day 4

Walking back from Anziwani Village at the end of day 4