In Chad, cooking on a traditional cookstove isn’t easy.
The stoves are made out of frail metal wires, which can disintegrate over time, allowing hot coals to slip out and cause burns. The stoves can also tip over when you place something heavy on top – like a pot of boiling water. And many traditional cookstoves will deteriorate after only three to four months. Without insulation the traditional stoves also lose heat quickly, slowing down cooking time and requiring lots of charcoal made from wood.
The eco-charcoal briquettes reduce deforestation and emit much less smoke and odour, making it safer to use.
Use of that charcoal has led to significant deforestation in Chad, leading the Chadian government to actually ban the production and use of wood charcoal in 2008. However there were no other affordable or effective fuels people could cook with.
That’s where MCC partner Enterprise for Vocational Development (ENVODEV TCHAD) comes in. In 2008, the founders started experimenting with the process of turning rice straw into cooking charcoal, or eco-charcoal. They now produce both the eco-charcoal and improved stoves that are safer and more efficient to use.
The eco-charcoal briquettes reduce deforestation and emit much less smoke and odour, making it safer to use. Eco-charcoal also heats more efficiently and burns longer, especially with the new insulated stove, reducing cooking time by as much as 60 per cent. And the new stoves are sturdier and last much longer than the traditional wire ones while also reducing and containing smoke to improve people’s health.
But the new charcoal and stoves are not just a good innovation for cooking. Producing them is also a source of income for families because ENVODEV TCHAD trains community teams on how to make the stoves and eco-charcoal. ENVODEV TCHAD receives a small share of the profits from sales of the cookstoves while the remaining profits are divided among the group. Currently there are groups trained in three cities; N’djamena, Moundou and Kélo.
So how do you go about turning straw into charcoal?
How to make the eco-charcoal
Step 1 : First, you need a source of biomass. Both rice and sesame plants leave behind large stalks that are usually burned on the field; and because both plants are produced heavily in southern Chad, they are a good starting source. The charcoal can only be produced during the dry season in Chad when people are not in the fields, which makes it a good secondary source of income for farmers.
Step 2: Clear the site around the oven. In the past they used old oil barrels for the carbonization process; however they found that the barrels were too small. The new oven that ENVODEV TCHAD had constructed is larger but remains relatively easy to transport from site to site.
Step 3: Place the biomass, in this case rice straw, inside the oven.
Step 4: Light the fire from the bottom, ensuring that all of the straw is adequately lit. Let it burn for about 10 minutes. Then place dirt around the bottom and top of the lid to reduce the amount of heat that escapes.
Step 5: After about 30 minutes remove the burnt straw from the oven, it’s now called biochar. Allow it to cool for 24 hours to ensure that it will not begin to burn again.
Step 6: Then you place the biochar in large sacks to store, or you form it into a briquette. In 2012, the creators spent about two months experimenting with different binding agents to make the biochar into a briquette. They tried making pastes with many different plants and finally discovered powdered cassava mixed with water. The biochar is mixed with the cassava paste and then pressed into a square briquette. After it has dried in the sun the briquette is ready to be used!
Once you’ve got the eco-charcoal, you’ll want a new cookstove to use it with. The beauty of the new stoves is that they are very simple to make, are constructed with mostly recycled material and require few costly inputs. Here’s how they’re made:
Step 1: Start with an empty pail. ENVODEV TCHAD uses empty metal paint pails because they are a similar size to traditional stoves and come already equipped with a handle. Once you’ve chosen a pail, place two inches of insulating mixture at the bottom. In the fall of 2016, ENVODEV TCHAD tested different mixtures of sand, clay and lime to find the most durable combination.
Step 2: Then you mix water into the clay and sand to bind it. Let it sit for five days allowing the mixture to solidify, similar to concrete.
Step 3: Take a smaller container and place it in the centre of the paint pail. Chad has an abundance of powdered milk containers which are an ideal size. Next, place insulating mixture around the milk container and compact it.
Step 4: Next, cut a hole in the side of the paint pail and the milk pail for the opening of the stove.
Step 5: Then you place small strips of iron rebar on top of the milk container, this creates a grate where charcoal can be placed for cooking. The cookstoves are made so that you can cook with eco-charcoal placed on the top rack or wood placed in the bottom hole.
Step 6: Next you place a metal ring around the top edge of the grate. Then place and compact the final layer of clay and sand mixture around the outer edges of the ring. The metal ring helps to keep the insulating mixture from breaking.
Step 7: Last, but not least, you add some paint and a logo and after five days of drying time the stove will be ready to use!
ENVODEV TCHAD has big dreams to expand its production of both products, helping people cook more safely and quickly and providing another source of income. We’re proud to support them and hope we can see the organization become self-sufficient with their profits to continue the work.
Nathan Schmidt is a participant in MCC's Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, working for a year with ENVODEV TCHAD.