[VOICE] SOLAR POWER HELPS TACKLE DEFORESTATION

Author: Colette Benoudji, LEAD Tchad

The Chad government’s decision last year to ban the use of firewood for cooking was a brave attempt to reduce deforestation, but it has caused significant hardship among those who depended on it. A campaign to distribute solar cooking stoves has given thousands of women across the country a much-needed alternative, demonstrating how technological innovation can provide a neat solution to environmental and development problems.

Like other countries in the African Sahel, the semi-arid region bordering the Sahara, Chad is threatened with creeping desertification. Years of low rainfall have allowed the sands to advance on areas that used to hold vegetation. Evaporation and the diversion of water for agriculture have caused Lake Chad to shrink from 25,000 square kilometers in the early 1960s to just 3,000 square kilometers today, with the Sahara sands moving southwards across its northern shores. As a result of the effects of drought and desertification on agriculture, the UN and other experts have predicted a food shortage that could affect several million people later this year.

The government says desertification has been hastened by the indiscriminate cutting down of trees for charcoal, used widely for cooking. Last year, the country’s president, Idriss Déby, issued a decree banning the use of firewood and charcoal for cooking in an attempt to stem the loss of tree cover. This has been strictly enforced, and families have been forced to burn everything from furniture to plant roots to cook. The government has been encouraging the use of gas, but few Chadians have gas equipment.

Lead Tchad received training from the non-profit KoZon Foundation in The Netherlands to work on a technology-based solution to this problem, one that could help save trees as well as giving families an alternative means of cooking: solar stoves. These consist of a foil-covered cardboard reflector which directs sunlight onto a dark pot. The pot is kept in a plastic bag to retain the heat. They cost less than US$10 eachand are easy to use .

Lead Tchad team started to train groups of women in Chad in how to use the stoves. This led to a meeting with the ministry of women’s affairs, at which we convinced them that solar stoves could help ease the hardship that the government’s ban on charcoal was causing women across the country, especially those in poor rural areas . During National Women’s Week last year , we launched a national campaign to distribute solar stoves to women attending the event.

Since then, the KoZon Foundation, the Government of Chadthroughout the Ministry of Women Affairs and other groupshave distributed more than 2,000 solar stoves to women in Chad, largely to women coming from the rural areas. The technology is playing a crucial role in helping the government cut deforestation rates, while offering people an alternative, affordable source of energy for cooking. The stoves are being used everywhere, though there have been problems. Some women are nervous of trying the new technology and the cooking styles it demands. Furthermore, the stoves work less effectively during the rainy season.

Thanks to this initiative, Lead Chad received funds from AED/USAIDfor supporting women in 3 rural villages in Chad with solar stoves project. Women in rural Chad are 90% illiterates so that Lead Tchad  try to link this project with adult women alphabetization.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Innovative technologies can play a vital role in changing destructive habits such as the unsustainable use of resources.
  • Legislation prohibiting the use of natural resources can cause hardship especially for the poor unless alternatives are made available.
  • One of the keys to the introduction of solar stoves is training: people need to be familiarized with a new technology and shown its advantages before they will adopt it.
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