An increasing pressure on resources
Kigoma region, one of the poorest regions in Tanzania, hosts close to 240,000 refugees and asylum seekers coming mainly from the neighbouring countries Burundi and DR Congo. The influx of people to the region has put pressure on host communities and local resources, especially firewood, which is the primary cooking fuel for both communities.
Due to limited livelihood opportunities and resources to purchase alternative fuel, over 90% of households across all two refugee camps in the Kigoma Region rely on firewood for cooking, which is collected within refugee camps and from nearby forests. Consequently, the increased population density in the camps and growing energy needs have led to an over-exploitation of forest resources and a scarcity of firewood for both refugee camps and surrounding host communities.
The government of Tanzania has protection of the environment reflected as a key priority in its current strategy, as such, DRC is able to contribute to the government's objectives which has led to strong cooperation between the various stakeholders involved in this area and DRC is looking to expand this further in the future.
An innovative energy and environment programme
To address the acute need for more sustainable and accessible energy sources, DRC has embarked on a 3-year energy and environment programme which started in 2021, funded by the embassy of Denmark in Tanzania. Implemented in the Kakonko, Kibondo, and Kasulu districts of the Kigoma region, the project aims to make briquettes from bio-mass using a carbonization process creating an alternative energy source for cooking fuel, available at household-level. It is also complemented with the establishment of tree nurseries in the host communities and refugee camps, along with community capacity and awareness building.
Biomass briquettes are produced from green waste and other organic materials, depending on what is available in the area. The biomass is collected and carbonized in almost 40 char production centres which have been established in nearby host communities. The biomass is carbonized in small metal drums which then turns into char (or charcoal) and is distributed to targeted refugees and host community members for them to manufacture the briquettes at the household level using manual tools. While providing a sustainable energy source and new skills to participants, this activity seeks to support 15,000 refugee households and 1,000 Tanzanian families. The briquettes burn better, longer, and produce less smoke than firewood.
“The bio-briquettes are an efficient alternative to firewood that can be safely used for cooking in energy-saving stoves. They are better for the environment and safer for women who no longer have to walk long distances to fetch firewood”, explains Samson Katabila, DRC’s Economic Recovery Officer in Tanzania.
Women and girls are generally responsible for collecting firewood and there has been a significant number of SGBV (Sexual and Gender Based Violence) related incidents occurring both during firewood collection in the area or while children are left unattended at home.
An objective of the programme is to select a total of 16,000 vulnerable households, including female headed households, persons with chronic diseases and elders for the programme. They receive training in bio-briquette production, energy-saving techniques and are supported with manual tools (e.g., manual extruder, mixing container) for bio-briquettes production.
Restoring the forests
In addition, the project seeks to support community-led initiatives such as the establishment of tree nurseries for afforestation. The participants are given training in tree planting and forest harvesting techniques while being supplied with tools and seeds for the establishment of tree nurseries in anticipation of the establishment or strengthening of 17 trees nurseries in the three districts.
“Seedings have already been raised in tree nurseries last year, in September 2021, and were then transplanted to plantations (woodlots) 4 months after,” explains Samson Katabila.
The nurseries have already produced close to 600,000 tree seedlings which were distributed and planted by 1,766 community members and refugees. As the value of the trees will increase over time, each tree is expected to represent USD 30 in five years.
“The goal of tree planting is to ensure that the forested areas are protected, conserved and restored around the refugee camps a process supported by the reduced need for firewood for cooking,” states Katabila. Capacity building on environment management and climate smart agriculture is also channeled through community platforms and forums for both host communities and refugee camps.