By STANSLOUS NGOSA –
COOKING accounts for the highest proportion of energy consumption in Zambia where charcoal and electricity are dominant sources of cooking energy, especially in urban areas.
According to the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute, an estimated 66 per cent of urban residents depend on charcoal for cooking and the majority use inefficient cooking stoves.
Just more than 20 per cent of Zambian households have direct connectivity to electricity, leaving nearly 80 per cent of the country’s population dependent on firewood and charcoal for cooking and heating.
The ratio is more skewed in rural areas with more than three per cent having access to electricity. The current population stands at 14,638,505.
However, with such a situation, where does it leave the forest because charcoal is a direct contributor to deforestation?
Deforestation is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a non-forest use.
Examples of deforestation include conversion of forestland to farms, ranches, or urban use.
Forests cover 60 per cent of the country translating into 45.8 million hectares of land that are affected by a deforestation rate of approximately 300,000 hectares per year.
The charcoal market is worth more than US$100 million without tax-revenue generated by the Government.
Lack of access to electricity and unreliable supplies has triggered charcoal consumption.
This has, however, resulted in Zesco, the power utility company to initiate a power rationing system which is known as load-shedding, a situation which has triggered the demand for charcoal and wood.
The use of charcoal is higher because most households are not familiar with other forms of energy like gas or renewable as people have a hard time switching away from the traditional charcoal.
However, to change the status quo, some companies and organisations are promoting use of other forms of energy as alternatives for cooking.
The introduction of gasifying stoves and renewable cooking fuel is the most effective and rapid way to turn this development around.
Wood pellets, which are made from dry sawdust compressed under high pressure and extruded through a die, are some of the forms of energy being promoted for cleaner, cheaper and sustainable cooking fuels in Zambia.
Briquettes, which are similar to wood pellets, are smaller but physically larger are also used.
Sizes vary but briquettes can vary in diameter from around 50 mm to 100 mm Briquettes offer a cleaner, more consistent alternative to firewood logs, offering higher energy density and steady burning.
Wood pellets also provide an alternative, renewable and low carbon alternative to fuel old coal boilers.
There is, however, abundant raw material in form of saw dust that goes to waste in many parts of the country especially on the Copperbelt where there numerous saw millers.
Emerging Cooking Solutions (ECS) Zambia Limited chief executive officer Mattias Ohlson says in producing the pellets, the company is taking waste materials such as sawdust, straw and grasses and converting them into high-grade fuel.
“Zambia no longer has to rely on either its last forests, or foreign fossil fuels for cooking. We envision pellets made from renewable bio-waste, to a large extent replacing charcoal as cooking fuel in Zambia,” he says.
ECS is considered to be a global pioneer in the field of clean cooking stoves and fuels.
By pelletising unwanted agro-and forestry waste ECS upgrades a nuisance to a 100 per cent renewable bio-fuel and sell it cheaper than the competing unsustainable alternative; charcoal.
“You destroy six tonnes of virgin forest when making one tonne of charcoal. This can be replaced by less than 500 kilogrammes of pellets made from rice- or wheat husks, straw, peanut-shells, saw-dust or maize stover,” he said.
However, people have a hard time switching away from charcoal because they are used to it, hence the need to educate communities, especially about the health advantage and the savings of time and money as well as the forests.
Educating people about what will happen when there will be no more forests water supply diminishing, climate getting warmer, there will be no more mushrooms and caterpillars and eventually no more charcoal to use is essential.
“By leaving charcoal behind and switching to clean burning stoves, fuelled by biomass-pellets, African families will be relieved from dirty and hazardous smoke-filled cooking,” he says
Zambia Institute of Environmental Management chief executive officer Morgan Katati says using pellets is part of the Green Initiative which promotes sustainable use and management of the environment.
However, Mr Katati says pellets are goods because of the low emission levels compared to wood or charcoal.
“They (pellets) burn slowly and are, therefore, effective for cooking. They also have very low emissions like biomass or wood, they could be a good substitute for charcoal,” Mr Katati said
He, however, called for more awareness on the use of the pellets and the type of braziers because the majority, especially from low income communities cannot afford.
The pellets or briquettes use special braziers or stoves which are expensive to the low income communities.
There is need, for a start, to subsidies the stoves as a project, create awareness and make affordable to the local people.
Promoting the use of other forms of energy would be shooting in the dark if there is no awareness and affordability.
There is need to create market linkages that would promote the use of improved stoves failure to which forests would continue to suffer as the result of deforestation.
Biofuel Association of Zambia president Thomson Sinkala, who echoed similar sentiments, added that there is need to consider other alternative energy such as biogas, and liquefied petroleum gas.
“But the supply side factors need to be addressed,” Professor Sinkala said.
Some Lusaka residents say they are unable to use the improved stove because they are expensive while others said they were not aware of the products.
Beatrice Mulishi of Mtendere Township says she has seen adverts of the pellets and improved stoves but they are expensive for her.
“I have seen something like that even on bill boards but I cannot afford if I compare with the common mbaula (brazier),” Ms Mulishi says.
Bupe Mwansa of John Laing Township says she had no idea about the pellets and improved stoves because no one even in her area is using them.
“I don’t know how they look like, nobody even in our compound (Township) use what you are saying,” Ms Mwansa says
So as the use of charcoal remains a dominant source of cooking in Zambia while other cheaper forms of energy are not promoted and made affordable to low income communities, the forests suffer and subsequently the environment.
It is imperative that other cheaper sources of energy are made available to the low income brackets which are the majority because the effects of deforestation get out of hands.