The daily quest for firewood which serves as a major source of cooking fuel in many households in rural Nigeria has become a daunting and gruelling task. In Bauchi State, where MEDA runs their Nigeria WAY project the quest for cooking fuel has forced women to walk further to find resources, pay more for fuel, and risk being exposed to high levels of pollution.
Like many rural regions, Bauchi is contributing to the depletion of their forests, leading to desertification in their quest for fuel. In 2006, the Annual Collaborative Survey of Socio-economic Activities in Nigeria reported that 82% of households in Nigeria were using firewood for cooking.
The use of firewood is not sustainable. Sources are becoming scarce. The limited supply of firewood has driven prices up and made it difficult for people to access fuel. Although cow dung is also used as fuel, trees are the most heavily exploited fuel resource. With the exploitation of forests, the soil is losing its nutrients and protection from wind and rain. The drastic desertification of northern Nigeria is an increasing concern for local governments.
According to a report by the International Centre for Energy, Environment, and Development (ICEED), the smoke from open fires significantly increases indoor pollution. Concerns over air pollution are heightened during the dry season especially with the coming of the harmattan – the process of farmers burn agro-residues like rice husks, peanut shells etc. This widespread of air pollution according to ICEED, has been associated with a wide spectrum of health effects ranging from eye irritation to death.
From the outside, the burning of agricultural waste might seem puzzling, but this practice is prevalent because farmers have limited use of shared storage spaces and also compete for the storage spaces within the grain houses.
Although some of the agro-waste is sold as feed for domestic animals, the demand outstrips the supply. This means that they are sold at a very low market value. Sometimes the waste pile grows so large, they become sources of methane during the early onset of the raining season due to anaerobic digestion. At one rice husk pile in Warji, some children were found winnowing the chaffs to get some rice for their homes. This has become a regular exercise for them when they have nothing else to do.
With the end of the rainy season and the beginning of harvest of most annual crops, the Nigeria WAY Project in partnership with Xpediant Global Vision and Roshan Global Services launched a briquette project to harness the agro-waste associated with peanut shells and rice husks.
This was done through business development training to build the capacity and develop the skills of 150 entrepreneurs to produce fuel briquettes from agro-waste and other agricultural by-products. Through the training, farmers and micro business owners were taught how they could re-use farming waste to earn an income, decrease waste, and create safe fuel.
Out of 150 trainees, 92 women between the ages of 15 and 45 were selected to attend the program. This combination of men and women was more effective for overall group learning as women have more experience about quality and burning efficiency of fuels than men.
Although this training was primarily to provide women and youth with the opportunity to learn how to earn an income by recycling agricultural waste, the underlining aim was to address the growing hazard women face from indoor gas pollution when cooking, reduce the conventional practice of burning agro wastes, and economically empower women and youth in the process. The main recommendation is to continue to develop a business model training for youth who have their skills built in briquette production so they can begin a small enterprise around briquette production. It is believed that with the raw materials termed as agro wastes which are available to them in the communities, briquette making will also contribute to tackling air pollution and deforestation in Bauchi State.
More Briquette producers means an improved business environment.