Combating Desertification Through Clean Cooking Stoves. BY EVELYN OKORUWA

Lack of adequate cooking energy in Nigeria especially in the rural areas saw the locals seeking for alternative source of energy, resulting in the felling of trees. Apparently, felling of our trees has resulted in desertification apart from that smoke from these burn woods which is said to be harmful to our health and the ecosystem. Evelyn Okoruwa looks at this issue.

The rate of desertification in Nigeria especially in the north is quite alarming. While the desert is moving towards us at the rate of 600 metres per annum, we are losing our forest through felling of trees at the rate of three per cent annually.

In addition to that the rate at which households depend on wood and charcoal for fuel is also quite high. Experts have stated that if the trend continues we will be in serious problem as a country. They noted that Nigeria who is a major exporter of cooking energy consumes only 150,000 tonnes out of 3 million tonnes it produces.

If we continue to consume less of this product families and small businesses will continue to depend on wood for fuel and thus the business of selling firewood will continue to be a thriving one. But on the long run it will have adverse effect on our environment. Experts had warned.

Even though wood is used as raw materials by many industrial companies and for cooking by some families and small businesses, the negative impact of having our tress felled cannot be over-emphasised. According to Mr Shehu Ali an environmentalist, “Deforestation leads to the depletion of nutrients in the soil, over time the soil will lose its fertility.

Also, the removal of trees adds to the high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as trees are needed to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and when there is too much of it, global warming results,” he explained, while stressing that the over reliance on wood as cooking fuel should be minimal.

Statistics haves shown that 90 per cent of trees felled are used for cooking. While cutting of trees results in desertification, cooking with fire wood has been said to kill according to a World Health Organisation report.

Environmental experts have also stated that though Nigeria experience abundance of energy resources there is still widespread energy poverty. Only about 40 per cent of the population has access to the country’s electricity grid. About 72 per cent of the population depends on traditional fuel wood for cooking.

Despite this, government financing for energy services that benefit the majority of Nigeria’s population has been grossly inadequate. The growing energy poverty in Nigeria is strongly linked to the broader increase in the population of the poor in the country. Even though Nigeria has embarked on an ambitious power sector reform, ensuring that electricity reaches the poorest of the poor has over the years taken a back seat.

Not only is investment in rural electrification in decline, Experts have said Nigeria has no history of providing annual budget for cooking energy programmes and strongly advised that Nigeria learn from South Africa. According to Executive Director of the International Center for Energy Environment and Development (ICEED), Mr Ewah Eleri “Even though South Africa had over 40,000 megawatts installed by 1994, only 34 per cent of the population had access to the grid.

It took a bold and ambitious programme to expand power to more than 80 per cent South Africans within a decade. If Nigeria’s power sector reforms fail to integrate rural electrification expansion of access will be elusive”.

He warned that if this trend continued, by the year 2030 instead of the 15. 3 million Nigerians who live without connection to the grid, the figure will almost double to 28 million households who will live without access to electricity and 189 million Nigerians will be dependent on cooking with wood.

Mr Eleri then said for the program to be successful there ought to be a number of action plans for expanding access to energy service that will benefit the poor. He called on the federal government to launch an ambitious national rural and electrification programme and establish a national cooking energy programme.

In the ICEED report which was done in collaborating with Christian Aid, it also urged the central bank of Nigeria to set aside 10 per cent of the existing power intervention fund for the pro-poor energy financing and for the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), to establish a clear framework for the utilisation of the consumer assistance fund.

It also recommended the use of a proportion of the ecological fund to finance cooking energy, establishment of a donor’s platform on pro-poor energy and the mobilisation of civil society in providing community level service. However, before these action plans are met, he opined that there was the need to provide cleaner cooking energy to prevent the women and children from dying as a result of cooking with wood.

Explaining more on the number of deaths caused by cooking with wood, Mr Eleri stated that though cooking is not supposed to kill, it is killing women and children as the World Health Organisation brought out a report that shows 95,300 Nigerian women die from smoke from the traditional biomass stove. So, after HIV/AIDs, cooking with stove is the next killer of women and children, he said

Eleri sternly warned that if nothing is done about cooking energy, women and children will continue to languish and the problem of deforestation would definitely not be solved with the high usage of firewood since statistics had already shown that most of the trees felled are used for domestic purposes especially in the North. He opined that it was better not to use wood at all since we have natural gas which is far cleaner and safer than wood in many ways.

He, however, admitted that natural gas wasn’t so available and when available the cost is prohibitive especially for those staying in the rural areas. He noted that in that case, energy efficiency would be the second option. According to him since gas supply do not get to every locality, when they come the prices are prohibitive, lack of information also tells some people that it is dangerous and can blow up their houses, so most families and small businesses remain stuck with wood,

For those who are stuck with the wood, Mr Eleri advised that they have to use such wood and charcoal efficiently by using the clean cooking stove even as he said that the Nigerian alliance that was founded last year has already set a goal of 10 million cook stoves by 2020. He said many have criticised them that the goal was not ambitious enough.

He, however, insisted that if the goal is able to be met by 2020, then the number of Nigerian households who depend on firewood would have been reduced by half. “So if we manage to achieve that in partnership with key stakeholders in the private sector, I bet we would have made a serious impact,” he added.

The country director SIFE Nigeria, Mrs. Adesuwa Ifedi, explaining more on desertification noted that the northern states are more prone to desertification as 90 per cent of the trees cut are used for cooking. In order words, the major cause of desertification in the north is the domestic uses of wood.

In addressing these issues, she revealed that SIFE Nigeria launched the ever green project which is intended to address the issue of desertification in the north through planting of trees and also through the introduction of the save80 stove. She explained that the save80 stove will help minimise the use of firewood by 80 per cent. SIFE Nigeria also introduced the use of briquette. She explained that briquette is made from agro waste and it is intended to eliminate the use of firewood completely.

She said, “We are working to make a better life for everybody. It will impact the woman, the youths and the communities and bring additional opportunities for them. It also impacts the country because through the planting of the trees, we will create a greener Nigeria which is a better Nigeria for everybody.

“The idea of the save80 stove is that right now, whether they embrace briquettes or not, the communities can start to reduce the amount of firewood they use in order to address desertification. Briquettes is an alternative for firewood using micro waste and that will completely eliminate the use of fire wood.”

Apart from introducing these stoves to the communities, there is also am empowerment process put in place by SIFE Nigeria since the best way to sustain the environmental friendly campaign is to add economic empowerment to it. SIFE Nigeria country director revealed that people are also being trained on how to make briquette so as to generate revenue for themselves. They will in turn train other people on how to make briquettes.

According to her, “The community where the impact wants to be made is selected. SIFE then designs empowerment project targeting 200 disadvantaged people in the economy who will be empowered with skills to create wealth. This group could be women, unemployed youths or farmers. Machines and equipment are there for the people trained to establish businesses after training.

“The second stage is introducing the training-the-trainer process so that the community can spread it to other communities and then we can move to new areas. It is going to be an income generating source since the best way to sustain environmental sustainability campaign is to add economic empowerment to it,” she informed.

SIFE Nigeria is also encouraging the youths by getting them the opportunity to showcase their talent especially in the area of environmental project. In that vein the paper briquettes project was implemented by teams from Kaduna polytechnic, Bayero University, Kano and Federal University of Technology, Owerri to discourage the felling of trees in a bid to control desertification.

She also said. “The Ecobag project was implemented by the team from Federal University of Technology, Owerri which not only contributed towards saving the environment from the hazard of polyethylene (pure water sachet) but created economic opportunity for them. So also is the waste to wealth project which employed the waste to wealth concept. The team from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 2007 created the economic opportunities for others through the project save the environment.

The biogas project by the University of Ado-Ekiti in 2009 utilised the use of organic waste materials in the production of biogas. The locals were empowered with a hands-on training that will enable them access a source of livelihood in waste materials.”