Tanzania is home to one of the largest tree covers in the world, which however is at high risk of depletion should the transition to sustainable clean cooking solutions be not prioritised over charcoal and firewood.
A guideline for trees growing and protection by the Tanzania Tree Seed Agency (TTSA) released in 2017 states that forests cover over 48 million hectares of land, more than the entire state of California in the United State of America. But unsustainable charcoal and firewood production for domestic and industrial use and lack of systematic management of the same contributes to the continuation of cutting down of trees, jeopardising the natural resource.
These driving forces are depreciating the country’s ecosystem assets and as a result, the benefits of forests such as regulating water run-off, reducing soil erosion, capturing and sequestering carbon are to a certain extent impaired.
According to The National Environment Statistics Report, 2017, the deforestation rate in Tanzania is estimated at 372,000 hectares per annum.
However, that is set to change with Kidomile and Makurunge villagers in Bagamoyo District having begun transitioning away from charcoal and firewood to the use of efficient and budget firewood cooking stoves.
“I have an improved cooking stove that uses less firewood and I can now cook large quantities of food at once, something I never experienced previously,” said Ramadhan Rajab, one of the villagers who benefited from the stove fabricating technology introduced to the village by the Climate Action Network (CAN Tanzania).
The stoves, made out of iron sheets use only two pieces of firewood at any given time. Rajab says that has reduced the cost of buying the commodity every day as well as the time taken by his wife and other women fetching it in the forest, about five kilometres away from the village.
The new stoves emit less smoke indoors, improving overall public health and, in addition, women like Marium Aziz, a villager in Makurunge, can now spend more time with family and engage in small economic activities to earn money.
“I now gather firewood only once a week instead of twice,” said Ms Aziz, who hailed the efficient stoves. “I can sit in the kitchen with my children because the new stoves emit very little smoke,” she said.
“The smoke was bad the time I was cooking on the traditional three-stone stoves; my children used to cough quite a lot and complain of itching eyes.”
In such a scenario, the number of trees felled for charcoal and firewood is gradually decreasing at the village with people now adopting new technologies that help them to manage their household budgets.
CAT Tanzania programme coordinator, Jophillene Bejumula, said they introduced the project to the community upon establishing that 42 per cent of the households in the district were completely unaware of the potential of clean energy while 91 per cent of them heavily rely on charcoal and firewood as the source of energy for cooking.
“The technology innovates the fabrication of efficiency and budget firewood cooking stoves, this training is amongst the efforts and interventions towards the necessity for the transition to a clean and affordable energy system in the Bagamoyo District,” says Bejumula.
According to Bejumula, there is a need for deliberate initiatives to be undertaken by the government and other key stakeholders to promote clean energy access in the country.
While Makurunge community uses that kind of stoves, others have opted to clay improved stoves to make life easier for rural women who cannot afford to buy stoves created out of iron sheets.
Despite their significance in clean energy sources, the stoves are yet to be widely promoted across the country owing to lack of knowledge by the majority of targeted end-users on fuelwood saving, high cost of stoves compared to traditional ones, among other factors.
Are the improved cooking stoves sustainable?
The 2013 Improved Cooking Stoves Assessment and Testing report by the Ministry of Energy, Tanzania Renewable Energy Association (TAREA) and SNV Tanzania, says the usability of the stoves has to be an improvement of the traditional stoves on aspects which are liked by the cooks in order to be preferred for cooking staple foods.
“New cooking technologies such as gasification stoves which can use fuel pellets made from agricultural waste should be promoted,” says the report.
Renewable energy expert from Tanzania Gender and Sustainable Energy Network (Tangsen), Thabit Mikidadi, says improved cooking stoves are one step towards introducing clean energy including solar, biogas and wind power which are sustainable and environmentally-friendly.
“The stoves are not a solution because trees are still felled down, now it is high time for stakeholders to penetrate affordable renewable energy solutions to the people especially in rural areas to help them protect the environment,” says Mikidadi.
In order to make meaningful progress towards sustainable cooking, Mikidadi suggests that governments and energy stakeholders will need to commit to ambitious goals, including clear strategies, more research on behavioural, cultural as well as financing resources.
The Minister of State Union and Environment , Mussa Azzan Zungu said that his office will continue working with energy stakeholders in the country to promote the use of renewable energy to reduce the use of charcoal and firewoods.
“We will continue educating the mass on the importance of using alternative energy as a way of reducing environmental effects related to charcoal and firewoods,” said Zungu.