Youths from 13 counties have come up with a green initiative to make briquettes- made from waste materials that contain high fibre content, such as husks from wheat, coconut and coffee, sawdust, maize cobs, hyacinth and even peelings from sweet potatoes and cassavas.

The Youths make up the Climate Action Teams (CATs), a 4 year innovative project launched in 2010 by InterClimate Network (ICN) in partnership with ERMIS Africa and later taken over by Living Earth in 2012; aimed at tackling two challenges: youth unemployment and helping communities to limit and adapt to climate change.
“Using household or farm waste in the charcoal is efficient instead of cutting down trees, which in the long term results to deforestation. Bare lands do emit a lot of greenhouse gases which escalate climatic changes,” says Nakuru County, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Director, Wilfred Osumo.

In Africa, only South Africa — which is the continent’s highest producer of greenhouse gases — has a carbon tax introduced through the Carbon Tax Policy Paper. Kenya is yet to come up with policies that limit emission of greenhouse gases and facilitates transition to a low carbon economy.

The initiative birthed the briquettes which will reduce deforestation by providing a sustainable and cheaper alternative to tree-based charcoal as well as reduce the emission of greenhouse gases that amount to climate change.

The youth’s venture is spread across three regions, with groups in Naivasha, Nakuru, Kericho, Kisumu, Gilgil, Njoro, Eldoret, Thika, Yatta, Embu, Nanyuki, Machakos, Meru, Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi.

Every youth group is a unit of Kenya CAT and each has a production site where they make the briquettes and sell them thrice a week. In a day, each group, with an average of 30 members, makes around 1,500 briquettes which cost Sh5 a piece.

“Three pieces of briquettes can cook a complete meal for four people. You will have spent only Sh15. This is very cheap considering that the least you can spend to buy a tin of charcoal is between Sh 30 to Sh 40,” says Ruth Chege, the Naivasha Green Platinum Project coordinator, one of  Kenya’s CAT groups.

Not only is the charcoal cost effective, Ms. Chege says it can cook for six hours continuously unlike wood charcoal which lasts less than an hour.

 “The charcoal is well compressed and emits more energy, which means it cooks faster for fewer hours. You can use five blocks for cooking githeri which is only Sh30. You will use at least two tins of wood charcoal to cook the same,” notes Ms. Chege.

She says foreign tourists, who are their main customers, prefer the charcoal for warming their houses as it has low carbon emissions.

“The briquettes are compressed, which means the biomass is compacted and hence releases less carbon dioxide unlike the wood charcoal which is not and wastes a lot of energy,” ex plains CAT-Kenya project officer Kevin Ochieng.

The type of raw materials used to make the briquettes varies depending on where the group is situated.
“Our main concern is the content of fibre contained in the raw material. The higher the fibre content, the higher the biomass and the more the energy contained,” says Mr. Ochieng.

Mr. Ochieng says the supply of the raw materials is consistent as the groups collaborate with large scale farmers growing the high fibre crops and with waste disposal agencies.

Though they began extensive production 15 months ago, Mr. Ochieng says they have not been able to penetrate the market due to lack of awareness among the target market.

“Our greatest challenge is selling the charcoal mainly because most people are unaware of its existence while others are reluctant. It takes time to convince the people that the charcoal can ideally work and it is environmental friendly,” says Mr. Ochieng.

Most of their clients are in the hospitality industry; with the highest consumption rate so far being in Naivasha, Nakuru, Embu and Gilgil.

 “The youth groups not only make use of the waste but also go out to the community to create awareness on not only the availability of the charcoal but how and why they need to protect and conserve the environment. Knowing the measures they need to adopt to address the issue of climate change will make them understand why the charcoal is the better option,” says Mr. Ochieng.

To root for market and increase conservation of the environment, Mr. Ochieng says the youth groups undertake aggressive training drives at the grassroots.


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