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DRC: Young man makes ecological charcoal to combat deforestation

Guido Murhula Zigabe is a young ecologist with a passion for environmental protection. He lives in the Ibanda commune in the city of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

As the sun rises over Bukavu, Mr. Zigabe roams the streets of the city with his team to collect household waste. Mr. Zigabe makes ecological charcoal briquettes from pineapple skins, dead leaves, vegetable waste, used paper and cardboard, and maize cobs. The briquettes are environmentally friendly and replace charcoal for household consumption.  

With this new approach, Mr. Zigabe aims to reduce the number of trees cut for charcoal production.

Mr. Zigabe’s idea came from an observation. He explains, “I’ve been observing the evolution of the forest for several years. I’ve noticed that the forest is shrinking every year because of logging.” In 2018, he set up an eco-friendly business making briquettes that households can use as an alternative to charcoal. 

He says, “I plan to make my company a solution to the energy needs of Bukavu households, in order to combat the use of charcoal, which is destroying the forests.” 

Mr. Zigabe estimates his company’s production at one ton of briquettes per week. He says: “I have 550 subscriber households and over 1,000 occasional customers. They like our product better than charcoal. I’m happy to see people stop using charcoal. It’s already a response against deforestation.”

Mr. Zigabe explains the process of making briquettes. The first step is to collect the waste and dry it under the sun for at least a week so that it loses moisture.  

The next stage is carbonization. This involves burning the waste in a kiln to obtain a carbon-rich material, which is then placed in an electric grinder to obtain a fine powder. The powder is mixed with a binder to produce a consistent paste. The paste is then passed through an electric compactor at a high temperature to produce briquettes in the shape of rods eight cm long and six cm in diameter. Mr. Zigabe and his team cool the briquettes for four days before selling them. 

Marie Ndolandola is the provincial director of the Congolese environmental agency in South Kivu. Mr. Ndolandola says that charcoal production contributes to deforestation in the area. He explains, “The felling of trees in the region is partly linked to charcoal production. It’s the main source of energy for households right now.” Mr. Ndolandola says that using green charcoal—like Mr. Zigabe’s briquettes—reduces the exploitation of forests for charcoal production. He encourages the community to use ecological charcoal because it is cheaper, stronger, and more environmentally friendly than charcoal.

Sylvie Akonkwa is a housewife who lives in the commune of Ibanda and has been using briquettes for a year. She explains: “I chose to use briquettes because they’re cheaper than charcoal. With one kilogram, which I pay $0.50 US for, I can prepare rice, beans, and tea. But with charcoal, I spend twice as much.” She advises other women to use the briquettes because they are less expensive and avoid the need to cut trees.

In addition to contributing to the fight against deforestation, Mr. Zigabe’s business employs over 50 young Congolese and earns him 250,000 Congolese francs or $120 US a day. This income enables him to feed his family. 

He concludes, “My hope is that everyone will adopt briquettes to protect the forests.”