Eco-friendly metal charcoal kilns turn deadly weed into cash crop

Members of the public view the charcoal kilns.

Members of the public view the charcoal kilns.

A collaborative programme between the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri) has developed a metal charcoal kiln that enables communities in Kenya to earn alternative income from carbon trading. The charcoal is currently being produced from an invasive, problematic shrub, Prosopis juliflora, known locally as Mathenge weed.

Over three decades, the shrub has invaded grazing fields, croplands and river courses in arid regions of Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet and Pokot Counties- badly affecting economic activities in these areas. Livestock herders have also complained that their goats lose teeth after consuming the shrub twigs and leaves.

The shrub, however, has useful attributes such as charcoal production and provision of fodder for livestock in the dry season. “We have realised that charcoal making through traditional methods reverses the gains made in minimising the carbon releases to the atmosphere.

The two mobile kilns to be shared by the communities are efficient compared to the traditional methods,” observed Simon Choge of ClimateCare, a Baringo-based non-governmental organisation promoting the development of the charcoal kilns. FAO has provided funds to both Kefri and ClimateCare for the work.

On the other hand, KEFRI is doing research to quantify the amount of carbon being sequestered by prosopis to ascertain how much the community will earn by promoting good management of the Prosopis trees and using improved methods of charcoal production.

“In compliance with the recent charcoal policy that calls for efficient kilns, FAO is promoting this Japanese technology, which has a 30 per cent recovery as compared to only 10-15 per cent recovery for the traditional earthen or brick kilns,”,noted Eric Kimani, FAO’s Head of Communication at the Nairobi Office.

The kiln is made up of three cylindrical interlocking rings. Essentially it works by ensuring that the dry wood is tightly packed to ease faster heat transfer and proper air circulation control during the whole process. The wood raw material is carefully weighed before loading into the kiln.

In order to clearly establish the recovery or yield rate, the final charcoal product is also weighed. It is expected that the process of using efficient charcoal kilns will mitigation against the effects of climate change. “Through ClimateCare, negotiations with global buyers of carbon are being made and the earnings for the community will also be determined,” added Choge.

Already according to Choge, the community around Lake Baringo is currently making up to Sh10 million per month from eco-charcoal production. “At the same time, the metal kiln is mobile and can be moved from one area to another. The charcoal is ready within 24 hours unlike the traditional kilns that take up to three days to be ready,” he added.

Another good attribute of the eco-charcoal production is that Prosopis is fast growing and prolific hence quick turnaround from planting to harvesting. Research has established that prosopis charcoal has a higher calorific value when burnt to produce heat. Environmental analysts note that countries such US, Argentina, South Africa and Sudan have had to grapple with the invasive nature of prosopis will little success in its eradication.

Focus has now shifted to its utilisation in local communities through ways that are economical and environmentally friendly. Currently, FAO is also supporting two other programmes in prosopis. They include biomass assessment of prosopis in order to get information on the potential for commercialisation of various Prosopis products.

Another entails working with local communities in the management and utilisation of the shrub. The global body is supporting the Forest Law and Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) programme, which monitors the illegal trans- boundary movement of forest products in the region.

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