Conserving Kakamega Forest with clay jikos

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021 00:00 | By
A member of Valonji Women Group prepares clay jikos. Photo/PD/NOVEN OWITI

A group of women is making a mark in a community in Shinyalu constituency, Kakamega county through making fuelwood energy-saving stoves.

As part of environmental conservation interventions, Valonji Women Group has found a niche in producing the stoves thereby helping to conserve the natural resource next to their Mituli village: Kakamega Forest, whose existence has been threatened over the years.

Mary Modani, the group chairperson, says their activities, which began in 2000 have significantly contributed to saving the forest from the threats of degradation through cutting down of trees for fuelwood.

Modani says group members have become active in promoting clean energy consumption, thus contributing to the development aspirations in the community.

“We are promoting use of clean energy among local communities; apart from supporting environmental conservation, it also promotes healthy living,” Modani says.

Before rolling out their activities as commercial enterprise, Valonji members first sensitised  the community on the importance of using the jikos to encourage transition from traditional three stone cooking method as a way of saving the ecosystem from encroachment.

The sensitisation programmes were taken up in schools, market places, chief barazas and other public places.

The group has made notable progress as the concept was embraced by the community even though at the start, they face the challenge of changing the people’s mindset.

The production proces takes about one month. The women can make about 500 jikos in a month. On a good month, the group sells an average of 250 stoves.

Each member takes part in sourcing for the market, which is done through door to door deliveries, wholesale orders and in open air markets.

The products retail between Sh300 and Sh1,500. The price is determined by the size and variety.

The most common product made by the group is upesi jiko, which uses three pieces of firewood.

Other varieties include jiko sanifu and uhai. Every jiko is fixed with ceramic liner to ensure heat is conserved during cooking.

Production process 

During the production process, every woman has a specific role to play. For instance, there are those with expertise on finishing, burning and production.

Five youths help in the soil mixing and two in making the stoves metal lining. To ensure the group continuity new members are enrolled after some intervals.

Modani says the initiative is a game-changer as it is both a source of direct income to the members and an avenue of preserving the environment. 

She says the project aimed at empowering the women and the general community economically.

Modani points out that the energy saver stoves are preferably convenient in cooking for reasons such as reduced time in collecting fuelwood, reduced personal capital spent on fuelwood, time exposed to cooking smoke and decreases in forest degradation rates.

The group received capacity building support from Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya programme, championed by Practical Action, a non-governmental organisation working to alleviate poverty in communities.

The project is being implemented in seven counties: Kakamega, Siaya, Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay, Nairobi and Makueni and seeks to empower women as entrepreneurs through energy businesses.

Members were trained how to make fuelwood energy-saving cook stoves as an alternative economic tool.

Besides jikos, Valonji members also do table banking and bee keeping projects to supplement their income. 

“Table banking has helped members get transformed economically where they can comfortably support their families and educate their children,” Modani explains.

Currently, the group has 20 bee hives. They harvest after three months, producing about 10kg of honey, which retails at Sh1,000 per litre.

Source of inspiration

Mildred Shihafu, a member of the group says the initiative is a source of inspiration to the women who initially struggled to support their families.

“Women here now spend little personal income on fuelwood. Besides, we have reliable disposable income to support our families,” she says, adding that there is reduced consumption of fuelwood at household level and cases of health complications caused by excess smoke emission.

Area assistant chief Stephen Buhoya lauds the project, saying it has helped alleviate poverty levels in the community through its economic benefits. 

“Generally, we have experienced enhanced security for the women who no longer go to the forest to fetch firewood regularly.

They used to frequently visit the forest, a situation that endangered their lives,” he said.

Sharon Atieno, gender and advocacy officer at Practical Action, says in the project over 425 women have been trained as entrepreneurs who are currently in the space of production of improved cook stoves, briquettes as well as promoting solar products.

Beyond the training, some of the groups are provided with seed capital in the form of production machines and loans to boost their businesses to be able to generate more income.

“The project sought to catalyse women’s economic empowerment in the sustainable energy value chains.

We endeavour to create solutions to the local communities to improve lives and to help them escape the impact of poverty,” she said.

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