Volunteering every weekend with humanitarian organizations is not for the faint-hearted. For Mani Yezid, a water and sanitation student in Burkina Faso, the work has been hard, but rewarding.
“I really wanted to make a difference in my community,” he said. “I saw the great difference that our work made, and I wanted to continue helping others in my capacity as a student studying water and sanitation issues.”
During his travel in Niger, Yezid hit upon a recurrent issue in areas where there was conflict: That many refugees didn’t know how to use gas for cooking, and preferred using coal and fire wood.
As a student at Burkina Faso’s International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering in Ouagadougou (2iE)—where he works alongside Young Champion of the Earth for Africa in 2017, Mariama Mamane, he was acutely aware of the environmental destruction from deforestation to provide firewood for fuel, especially in Burkina Faso where many refugees are settling.
Wood is the dominant fuel used for cooking in rural households, accounting for more than half of Burkina Faso’s energy mix. Only around 18 per cent of the population has access to electricity, and indoor pollution causes an estimated 16,500 premature deaths every year.
At the same time, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that around one third of Burkina Faso’s productive land—around 9 million hectares—is degraded, and this area is expected to increase every year.
“Problems related to cooking energy are added to those related to malnutrition in camps,” said Yezid. “In cases where immediate action is needed, following a natural disaster or just after an influx of refugees, humanitarian organizations need to react promptly. At the start of interventions, food security is often a priority.”
There are energy-efficient stoves and briquettes made from non-wood products available, reducing deforestation and cutting harmful indoor pollution. But when he teamed up with agricultural engineer Judith Djaonaiel, the pair realized more local solutions were needed.
“We hope that our eco-charcoal fireplaces can help families to cook food they are provided with in the camps, in an environmentally sustainable way, while also helping women carry out other income-generating activities like selling cakes and other foods,” said Djaonaiel.
The duo founded Green Brikstove using their expertise and combined passion to work with communities in Ouagadougou and the surrounding area to test their products. The briquettes are made purely from food waste, and the efficient and quick-cook stoves are made from recycled shipping containers and boat parts, which they get from the ports of Lomé in Togo, Cotonou in Benin and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
“We love innovation and we are bringing our contribution to help vulnerable communities,” said Djaonaiel. Their technology is still being tested and is yet to be patented, but results are already proving successful with the local community.
“We got the idea by being in the market, and realizing that people throw left-overs or food which is going off away. We started using the food waste to make a prototype and now we have an agreement with people in the market. They bring the waste, we use it to cook and make into dried briquettes, which we give them back to use.”
Currently, Green Brikstove processes about 10 kilograms of food waste a day from the market. Preliminary tests show that the briquettes are more efficient in combustion compared with charcoal, reducing harmful emissions.
“We are still in the process of testing the briquettes as an alternative to wood fuel and also gas, which is often used in the refugee camps and can be misused by people who have never used gas before. We really are interested to improve the lives of women, especially those in rural communities,” Djaonaiel noted.
Already, the duo has noticed an interest in the stoves on the social media platforms where they have been showcasing their product, in Togo, Benin, Niger, Côte d'Ivoire and Mali. But it will be another year before the stoves are ready to hit the market.
Undergraduate and Director of Entrepreneurship and Continuing Education at 2iE,
Djim Doumbe Damba, said: “Our young African entrepreneurs Yezid and Judith propose an alternative to domestic energy usable in the context of emergency and humanitarian situations.
“Their solution uses food wastes to also tackle desertification and pollution. If tests prove to be satisfactory, their innovation will alleviate the housework of women in rural and peri-urban areas. We encourage and support them in this initiative.”
UN Environment Programme’s Switch Africa Green supports micro, small and medium enterprises, including start-ups, to transition to sustainable consumption and production practices that promote green business development. Patrick Mwesigye, UN Environment’s Regional Coordinator for Resource Efficiency in the Africa Office, said:
“In general, the impact of briquette production is three-fold. Environmentally, communities around briquette production often benefit from the clean-up of waste in their compounds, along the roads and garbage dumping sites.
“Economically, local enterprises producing briquettes like these report income increases, and socially, such entrepreneurial developments can reduce the impact of indoor air pollution on the health of women especially, while creating green jobs—and a notable increase in employment for women and youth.”
The Young Champions of the Earth Prize, powered by Covestro, is UN Environment's leading initiative to engage youth in tackling the world's most pressing environmental challenges. This year’s regional finalists have been shortlisted and the winners will be announced in September. Stay tuned!