In several countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, the rate of deforestation is increasingly becoming rampant as the populations rely heavily on wood fuel, the major energy source for cooking and heating. By estimate, 90 percent of Africa’s population use wood fuel for cooking, and particularly in rural settings of Sub-Saharan Africa where firewood and charcoal provide majority of all energy sources. Burundi and Rwanda in East Africa are no exceptions when it comes to energy access and use. According to the national statistics of the two countries, the greatest amount of Burundi’s energy consumption relies on biomass. The household energy needs are entirely met by traditional biomass (99%) while the energy balance of Rwanda shows about 85% of its overall primary energy consumption is based on biomass, all rural households use biomass for cooking. In the Bugesera region of Lake Cyohoha which is shared by both countries, high demand for wood fuel has led to increased rates of deforestation.
Rapid deforestation in the catchment area affects the availability of energy for the communities and this on the other hand leads to soil erosion as the land is stripped off tree cover and left bare. At least 30 meters of lake shoreline have been lost to erosion which is directly attributed to the impacts of cutting trees for firewood. Inadequate investments in alternative energy sources such as biogas or energy saving stoves have been highlighted by the communities and local authorities and has resulted to increased use of wood or biomass for energy especially cooking. Due to forest degradation and intensive tree cutting practices, household members especially women, youth and girl children have to travel further away to collect firewood which increases their vulnerability.
Over the past few years, the Bugesera region is faced with persistent drought brought by climatic variability and partly as a result of deforestation and over-cultivation. The state of the Lake Cyohoha has rapidly deteriorated due to erosion and pollution from both human and animal waste. Access to basic services such as safe drinking water, sanitation, health services and modern sources of energy among the communities of Bugesera is very low in the catchment area. The practice of cutting trees for firewood and charcoal is identified as one of the major contributing factors to soil erosion during the situational analysis conducted by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) and collaborating partners.
In responding to climate change challenges in the region, GWP in 2013 launched the Water, Climate and Development Program (WACDEP). WACDEP includes a portfolio of projects aiming to build climate resilience through better resource management to improve community livelihood security. The implementation of WACDEP is seen crucial in demonstrating to communities the best approaches to respond and adapt to effects of climate change. Actions taken include technical capacity development, media training and sensitization, construction of community biogas facilities, improved energy saving stoves, tree planting and watershed protection. In addition, more efficient methods of burning wood fuel, such as the fuel-efficient Lorena stoves have been introduced. Fuel saving stoves have been produced in households. As clay is used for insulation, heat is conserved in the stove leading to less energy demand, less cooking time and hence less fuel demand. Women groups have been trained on how to produce and use these improved stoves. The production of the stoves creates additional income especially for women.
Through WACDEP program, biogas demonstration project in five villages of Tunda cell, the Kamabuye sector, the Bugesera district and the Eastern Province in Rwanda were launched. Biogas is a cleaner and cheaper alternative to wood fuel and is now becoming a widely used source of energy in the communities of Bugesera District. Since its launch as an alternative source of energy, biogas use has led to a reduction of tree cutting and providing other benefits. The construction of biogas digesters fed by cow dung and fecal sludge to produce biogas energy is reducing the dependency on natural vegetation for biomass energy thus curbing vegetation destruction. This has increased domestic energy sources and helped curb energy insecurity. Lighting has been installed in houses so that children are now able to do their homework in the evening which is expected to lead to better performance in schools. Improved energy saving stoves are preventing lung diseases associated with inhaling smoke and thus improving life conditions. The planting of trees in the Lake Cyohoha buffer zone improves vegetation cover there by curbing soil erosion and environmental degradation.
The biogas initiative is complementing the efforts of the governments of Burundi and Rwanda to realize energy security, economic development, Poverty Reduction Strategies.
This blogpost is written by Kenge James Gunya, Knowledge Management Officer at the Global Water Partnership (GWP)