Turning the tide in Africa’s 5000-year fight against desertification

Did you know that the Sahara Desert used to be green?

The vast expanse of dusty desert and blistering sand was, 9000 years ago, a lush green savannah. This period was known as the ‘Neolithic Subpluvial’, a time of mega-lakes surrounded by grasslands and wildebeest and early human settlements[1].

Then, about 5000 years ago, the rains stopped. The climate shifted and the sands rolled in. And it didn’t stop there. Ever since that time the people of the Sahel have been fighting an endless fight to save their crops and land and livelihoods against the ever-encroaching sand. In short, the fight against desertification.

the_green_sahara_by_9weegee_dc2fsa7

Artist’s impression of the Neolithic Subpluvial, or ‘Green Sahara’, circa 9000 years ago (Source: http://www.deviantart.com/9weegee).

Sahara_satellite_hires

Satellite photo of the Sahara today (Source: http://www.nasa.gov)

 

UNEP has estimated that 35% of the earth’s land surface is under threat from desertification. That’s an area the size of North and South America combined. And threatening 850 million people. Every year, some 21 million hectares are reduced to a state of near or complete uselessness – exacerbated by human activity and deforestation[2].

nrcs142p2_050042

Desertification vulnerability in Africa (Source: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov)

We at CO2balance have unfortunately witnessed this firsthand. In previous posts on this blog, Project Coordinator Moses has shared his experiences of deforestation in Africa. In Kenya he says, without forests the country would be little more than a desert.

Nowhere is this more apparent than along the edge of the Sahara. Since 1920 the desert has expanded by about 10% – 800,000 km² of agricultural land swallowed up by the desert, forcing millions to migrate[3]. If nothing is done, this will only get worse.

Thankfully, we ARE doing something – communities and organisations are taking big strides to combat this threat. Dozens of programmes have sprung up; from local-scale “Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration” (in which rural farmers lead the fight), to national action programmes like Kenyan Minister of Environment Judy Wakhungu’s plan to reforest the country, to (a personal favourite) the plan for the ‘Great Green Wall of Africa’ – the seemingly outlandish plan to grow an 8,000km-long line of trees, 48km deep, across the entire Saharan border, from the Atlantic coast of Senegal to the Red Sea coast of Djibouti as a monumental ‘natural’ defence. Sounds incredible (as in, not-credible), but it was launched by the UNCCD and African Union and planting has already begun – in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger and Ethiopia. As of March 2019, 15% of the wall has been completed[4]. (I would go on about this further but frankly it deserves a blog all by itself! For now, go check it out: https://www.greatgreenwall.org/).

34337

The Great Green Wall of Africa (highlighted in yellow) and the plan to stop the Sahara in its tracks (Source: http://www.nationalgeographic.org)

 

We at CO2balance are doing what we can to aid this fight. Our projects, whether safe water or clean cookstoves, all have the upshot that they drastically reduce the amount of firewood that rural people are burning in their everyday lives. This drastically cuts levels of deforestation in the area. Without deforestation, shrubs and trees are not felled, which means that the midday sun will not dry and desiccate the soil, nor will organic matter and organisms be lost, thus retaining agricultural productivity, biodiversity, supporting human health and livestock and eco-tourism[1].

01

We are proud to say that, since 2013, our projects have helped save over 2.5 million tonnes of wood (about 73km2 of forest) across Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Not to blow our own trumpet too much though. At the end of the day, whilst these are successes, they constitute a drop in the ocean of sand that is desertification. Real, large scale change requires international cooperation and mass public awareness.

In 17th June 1994, the UN launched the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), to meet this challenge. Today, 25 years on, we celebrate the Silver Anniversary of the “World Day to Combat Desertification” (#2019WDCD), celebrating all that we’ve achieved, but recognising how much further we have to go.

logo2019

The theme of this Silver Anniversary celebration: “Let’s Grow the Future Together” (Source: http://www.un.org)

The arid and semi-arid lands of Africa, under greatest threat, are home to about 400 million Africans[5]. Their plight will surely intensify with climate change. But, with international action like the ‘Great Green Wall’, and mass small-scale resistances like CO2balance’s projects, we can hope to turn the tide.

For now then, take a look at a few of the special 25th Anniversary projects taking place today and share these stories to raise awareness of the fight against desertification: https://www.unccd.int/actions17-june-world-day-combat-desertification/2019wdcd-events-around-world

Economic Development and Opportunities for Entrepreneurialism Through Safe Water: The Story of Jaspher and Susan in Lango sub region, Uganda

Jaspher Opio is a proud beneficiary of the CO2balance Safe Water project in Lango sub region, Northern Uganda. Jaspher lives in a village called Agengi in Dokolo District. He and his wife Susan have two children and 5 dependents. Susan and the family collect water from Aminalucu Borehole which is 250 meters away from their household.

According to Jaspher, before CO2balance intervention, people around his village used to collect water from very unsafe source. Villagers would spend lot time collecting water and fuel for purification. The main source at that time was an open well which had become a health hazard due to poor water quality. Also, children risked drowning in the well.

Aminalucu

Aminalucu Borehole (for domestic use) in Dokolo District, Uganda

‘I am a proud owner of a nursery tree seedling business which I started two years ago and this has increased my household income from 2,500,000 to 5,000,000 Uganda Shillings per season. I grow different tree species like Malaina, Clone Eucalyptus, Pines, and Ashock’ says Japher.

He adds that the initial investment cost for the nursery bed was 2,470,000 UGX (around £500), which he acquired as a loan from a village savings group.

According to Opio, his nursery bed employs 5 workers: two males and three females who are also water users of Aminalucu borehole.

‘the 3 female employees who work for me also live close to the borehole and say that they are now able to work at the tree seedling nursery because they no longer spend long hours in search of water’ added Japher.

Japher’s wife Susan, together with the adult dependents in their household, also help him at the nursery business which initially was not possible because they spent hours travelling long distances in search of water before the borehole was rehabilitated.

Currently his nursery bed is having 1,700 root stocks capable of raising 30,000 to 40,000 seedling of Eucalyptus trees whose potential average total sales is 24,000,000 UGX per year (around £5,000). Japher intends to invest this income in expanding his boda boda (motor cycle transport) business and also start a free range poultry system which will be managed entirely by his wife.

Susan is so happy with the time saved in collecting water from far off sources because she’s able to use it to support their family businesses and contribute to the household income.

The Lango Safe Water Project reduces CO2 emissions by removing the need for households to boil water as a treatment method. As well as reducing CO2 emissions, the project provides safe drinking water and greatly reduces the time spend collecting water and firewood, and reduces the time spent boiling the water. As shown by the story of Jaspher and Susan, this time can be investing in businesses which benefit the household and the wider community through employment.

Water, sanitation and hygiene training in Kaliro, Uganda

In May, CO2balance in-country partner WAACHA conducted WASH training in Kaliro District, Uganda.

LWAMBOGA.JPG

The purpose of the annual training is to sensitise the communities on important issues such as keeping the area around the borehole clean and storing water correctly. The training takes place every year to reinforce these values.

These important visits ensure that the project boreholes can be properly maintained by the communities, thus protecting the long-term future of the water point. The practises and techniques taught also help protect the groundwater from contamination and ensure that the water is stored safely at home.

The Kaliro Safe Water project reduces CO2 emissions by providing communities with safe water, so they no longer need to boil water with firewood as a treatment method. The WASH training are used along side water quality testing to ensure that the communities are consuming safe water year round. As well as reducing CO2 emissions, this project provides safe water to rural communities and cuts cases of water-borne diseases and diarrhoea.

Eritrea Cookstove Monitoring 2019

CO2balance and project partner Vita, an Irish NGO, are in the fourth year of conducting monitoring for two cookstove projects in northern Eritrea.

The region in which the stoves are based is the Anseba region, named after the Anseba river which passes through the region. Majority of the region is at high altitude with varying weather conditions compared to other regions in Eritrea. Once heavily forested, now forest cover for the whole of Eritrea is less than 0.1%.

This makes it particularly difficult for the population who rely mainly on sourcing wood fuel for cooking. The improved cookstove projects allow people to continue to cook traditional meals for their families, using less fuel. This saves time and effort in collecting wood fuel. In addition, the stoves are fitted with chimneys which direct smoke from open fires out of the kitchen, improving the health of women and children.

Since new cookstove monitoring requirements were introduced in July 2018, CO2balance is required to take pictures of all the improved stoves monitored known locally as the Adhanet stove. The pictures show how women have personalised their stoves which are permanently fitted in their kitchens. The three outlets on the stoves are used for cooking injera, bread and soup respectively.

These projects positively contribute to four SDG impacts as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Please Contact Us or email enquiries@co2balance.com to hear more about the positive impacts of our Eritrea projects!

SDG cookstove redo

CO2balance in Sierra Leone

CO2balance has been exploring the options for launching projects in Sierra Leone for a long time. Following on from extensive nationwide feasibility studies, we finally decided recently to launch an initial borehole rehabilitation and maintenance programme in partnership with the NGO CODE-SL. Having lived in Sierra Leone back in 2016 and been captivated by the country’s natural beauty and generous people, I was very excited to return to meet our new partners and to explore Kono, the remote district in the East of the country where we are conducting the pilot phase of our project.

The need is immense in Sierra Leone for projects that ensure access to safe water and promote improved sanitation practices. Official figures state that 53% of the country’s rural population lack access to an improved water source, but in reality this figure is likely to be much higher. Whilst many rural communities have had access to safe water from a hand pump powered borehole at some point, a vast proportion of these have fallen into disrepair due to a lack of training or resources for them to be maintained locally. The situation is even starker regarding improved sanitation, with just 6.9% or rural communities having access to improved sanitation facilities. The impacts of these trends can be seen in the shocking figure that over 90% of rural water sources in Sierra Leone are infected with E-Coli.

DSC05324

A broken-down handpump in Old Kissy Town, Kono district

My visit had 2 main purposes: to travel with CODE-SL to visit some of the communities in Kono where we will be working to repair and maintain boreholes and to attend the Local Stakeholder Consultation meeting, which introduces the project to local authorities in the target area and solicits their feedback.

The visits in Kono district were fascinating. We travelled to some of the most remote corners of the district, reaching the village of Kaadu where we looked across the Mel river into the Republic of Guinea. In Kaadu, we saw the broken down handpump which will shortly be repaired and visited the current water source, which is a murky and mossy pool in the forest about a 20 minute walk away from the village. We met Sita Sandi there, a local woman with 4 children who usually has to travel to the water source about 3 times per day. She reported that although they boil the water they collect, waterborne illnesses remain a major problem and that her son had just missed several days of school through diarrhoea. She looks forward to the completion of the borehole rehabilitation, as she hopes that it will save her the best part of 2 hours every day to have fresh water available in the village. Crucially, it will also reduce the scourge of waterborne disease which has greatly disrupted her children’s education.

DSC05236

Sita Sandi collects water outside Kaadu

Having visited the communities, we conducted the local stakeholder consultation meeting in the city of Koidu, which was attended by several councillors from Kono district in addition to representatives of local NGOs and leaders of communities to be targeted in the project. The meeting was a fantastic meeting of minds of the key stakeholders with whom CODE-SL and CO2balance will be working in the coming years, and the feedback for the project was overwhelmingly positive. Stakeholders praised the concept of the project, particularly its focus on long-term maintenance of water points due to the high risk that water points can break down if they are not regularly serviced. It was also discussed that there is a great need for the project to reach beyond the initial 30 communities, with stakeholders assured that if all goes well in the initial phase of the project, we hope to significantly expand the reach in the coming years.

IMG_20190328_160637200_BURST000_COVER_TOP

The CODE-SL/CO2balance team gather before the LSC meeting

I’d like to thank our partners, CODE-SL, for their welcome and for their hard work on the feasibility phase of the project. This marks not only our first project in Sierra Leone, but our very first project in West Africa. It’s very exciting to expand into this new region and we hope that it will be a gateway to further projects in West Africa in the coming years. The first borehole rehabilitations will be conducted in the next couple of months – watch this space for more updates from Sierra Leone!

Celebrating gender equality on International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day 2019 comes at a very exciting time for CO2balance. Over the past couple of years, we have been working towards registering our borehole projects in Lango sub-region in Uganda under the Gold Standard’s Gender Equality methodology. The projects have now completed the process of registration under this methodology, making them the first projects to do so.

This process feels like a natural progression. It has been observed for several years that our borehole projects have very positive impacts on gender equality in target communities. In Uganda as in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the burden of collecting crucial household resources like firewood and water falls disproportionately on women. Where water access is difficult due to the lack of a functioning borehole, the burden of water collection on women can become particularly intense, often taking up to 6 hours per day which leaves very little time for rest, education and income-generating activities. We have known anecdotally that the rehabilitation of boreholes in the centre of communities greatly alleviates these challenges by reducing the distance travelled for collection, but with the adoption of the Gender Equality methodology, we are now gathering and collating firm quantitative data to back this up.

IMG_4773

Women in Lango sub-region collecting water

Working under the Gender Equality methodology has required some additional steps to enhance the existing positive impacts of making safe water available in the heart of communities. A particularly important step was the conducting of a sensitisation campaign in November and December 2018, where almost 250 members of the target communities received training on key concepts for gender equality, including the promotion of sharing domestic responsibilities between men and women, advocacy against gender based violence and encouraging women to adopt leadership roles in their communities.

The impacts of this campaign are now beginning to be felt, with recent monitoring in communities in Lango showing quantifiable improvements in gender equality on a range of indicators. Not only are women saving vast amounts of time on water collection, but awareness has increased on the importance of this responsibility being shared between men and women. Crucially, women are also gaining equal representation on water resource committees, the community groups responsible for maintaining the boreholes and informing water users about sanitation and hygiene. To have women on these committees serves as a great medium to share the positive messages of the project on gender equality in the wider community.

Kole

Community members in Lango attending a meeting as part of the sensitisation campaign

In a few months time, we will be issuing the first round of carbon credits from the Lango projects which have the Gender Equality stamp. We are very proud to be the first company to make such credits available on the market, and hope that this will serve as a watershed moment to instil gender equality in carbon projects globally.

Watch this space for further updates on this exciting project in the coming months. From all of us at CO2balance, have a very happy International Women’s Day!

Eritreans have a new name for cookstoves: the ‘Saviour stove’

Desey Tsehaye and her grandson with their brand new ‘Saviour’ cookstove, complete with smoke funnel.

Desey is a 47-year-old grandmother who lives out in the Eritrean desert, south of the capital city Asmara. It is a forbidding landscape of rock and mountain, which has been almost completely deforested.

Desey and her family were forced to buy firewood everyday, simply to cook and feed herself and her family, spending a lot of money in the process. The traditional stove also produced a lot of smoke, causing eye problems and headaches from the fumes.

Eritrea stove - making (3).jpg

Local women helping to construct the stoves.

Then an improved cook stove was installed in her house through Vita and CO2balance’s fuel efficient cook stove project. The stove used much less firewood, saving the women and girls time, money and drudgery collecting firewood.

As such, they have taken to calling it the ‘Saviour stove’ (Adhenet in the Tigrinya local language).

Despite this success however, when Desey was invited to participate in the project she was initially reluctant: When I was invited to have a stove my mother had just died and I told Vita that I was grieving and not in the frame of mind to have this new kind of stove.”

But thankfully she came round: “They offered to construct it for me. Once it was built I really blessed them. Now I see that this stove is a precious item that everyone should have. I’m telling all my friends and neighbours about the benefits of it of this stove.”

Now she has no need to need to buy firewood – twigs and leaves are enough fuel for her improved stove. Her family has saved money, which they spend on a buying a wider variety of food for their family and making improvements to their home. Their former smoke problems are also a thing of the past, as the improved cook stove uses a handy chimney so there is no smoke indoors.

 

Eritrea stove - making (5)

Local women enjoying their training in stove maintenance.

CO2balance and Vita worked closely with the local women’s association in the village to engage women in the project and train them in stove maintenance.

This has proved very successful and helped build grassroots support and interest in the Saviour stoves, ensuring that they remain in good condition and reap the rewards for many years to come.