Nelly Bassily | June 4, 2012
Fatuma Iddi Msilo smokes fish and sells them in the market in Bagamoyo, 75 kilometres north of Dar es Salaam. Fishing is one of this coastal town’s main activities, along with cashew nut production and handicrafts. All of these activities are energy-intensive, requiring both fuel and electricity.
Recently, Bagamoyo’s rapid urbanization and population growth have made it harder for the 46-year-old Ms. Msilo and others to keep their businesses afloat and feed their families. Electricity costs are rising, and the fuelwood most people use for households and businesses is becoming scarcer.
But Ms. Msilo and 20 other local people have been able to turn their situations around and increase their profits, following a training session offered by the government’s Rural Energy Agency, or REA. REA trained thirteen women and eight men how to make briquettes from agricultural residues such as rice and cashew husks, wood shavings, coconut husks and shells. The growing use of briquettes addresses the shortage of charcoal and other wood-based fuels, and offers a less environmentally-damaging and more affordable alternative.
Ms. Msilo says, “I’m using the money I’ve made to buy more fish and run my family. Without this boost in business, I am not sure I could have coped.”
Adriana Eftimie is a team leader and gender coordinator in the World Bank’s Sustainable Energy Department. She says, “Initiatives like this, which take into account the different energy needs and concerns of men and women, can ease the classic double-burden borne by many women: a lack of sufficient energy and grinding poverty.” Ms. Eftimie explains that it is still primarily women who gather fuelwood in most of sub-Saharan Africa, then cook over traditional stoves which harm their health and the environment.
Local farmer Ally Sudi also attended the REA training. He grows and sells rice and cashews to feed his family of five. After the training, he launched a cashew processing business with five other men. Without briquettes, they would have needed one US $30 bag of charcoal to process 100 kilograms of raw cashews into dried nuts. But now the business uses only half a bag of charcoal, with the rest of the energy supplied by husk briquettes. Cutting energy costs keeps the business profitable.
Mr. Sudi says, “This training came at the right time – I cannot tell you what we would have done without it. Firewood and charcoal have become much harder to come by, because land is being converted to other uses as more people arrive into the area.”
Mame Cidosa is Ms. Msilo’s neighbour and attended the same training session. She makes tie-dyed textiles for the tourist trade, using the cleaner, cheaper briquettes. She says, “Without this training, I would have quit my business, like many other women, because of the costs and the challenges of getting charcoal or firewood. Today I won’t go hungry because of lack of money to buy fuel. And I’ve found I have more time for other income-generating activities.”