Better living through charcoal

Basic earth kiln designed to produce charcoal.
Basic earth kiln designed to produce charcoal.

Waking up with a frog, a field visit with the SDC and what to do if the village well has run dry.

I wake up in the middle of the night, and I come face-to-face with a frog. How the animal has made it not only into my hotel room in Kilosa, but even onto my bed I have no idea. Startled, I shove the frog away, only to send it flying across the room. If that was my prince I probably blew it.

I meet my nightly visitor on a field trip to Kilosa in a rural area of Tanzania, a project visit by the SDC (a.k.a. the DEZA) I get to tag along. „Transforming Tanzania’s Charcoal Sector“, which the SDC supports, is designed to establish a sustainable charcoal production while improving rural employment. As I’ll be writing an article for The Citizen I won’t go into the details of the project here, only summarize it in a nutshell: Tanzania is highly dependent on charcoal, but the country uses up its forest reserves quicker than they can grow back. Projects like the one in Kilosa aim to connect the fight against climate change with development cooperation. The project villages get taught more efficient and sustainable ways of producing charcoal but community management as well, thus enabling them to profit from the business (More information can be found here and here).

Once more I learn on this trip: Tanzanians love their paperwork. First thing we do at each village visit is to sign the visitor’s bock that is presented to us with a big ceremony. Accompanied by what feels like most of the inhabitants, we do a tour in two project villages and get shown the infrastructure the villagers built with the winnings from the charcoal business. We see the direct consequences of Kilosa’s environmental problems: Due to the deforestation the village’s well has run dry. The villagers have invested in a new well, but because the ground water is lower than it used to be, the new well had to be dug 65 meters down.

The old well in the village Ulaya Mbuyuni has run dry.
The old well in the village Ulaya Mbuyuni has run dry.

The people from SDC ask questions I’d never have thought of and point out challenges I would not have recognized as problems. Some seem obvious, such as it might not be a good idea to build the new well right next to the old one. Others less so, for example that one of the biggest challenges of the project is to establish by-laws within the village community that not only get respected, but enforced, too.

One of the villagers insists on having his picture taken with me in it. I agree, but as soon as we are in front of the camera, I stand behind him and make rabbit ears – much to the amusement to the rest of the bystanders that break out laughing and clap. Some jokes seem to work in every culture.


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