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Every evening women carry home wood for cooking © Beate Apfelbeck

In our village of Mwale in the Mbeya region of south-west Tanzania, processions of women can be seen carrying thick branches of firewood piled on their heads on their way home every evening. Simple stoves are then created on a wood fire, on which traditional meals are cooked. The air is smoky and thick. This happens every evening in any village in Tanzania.

A woman in the village, Bibi Rehema, carries the wood on her head © Beate Apfelbeck

However, it is not without consequences for the environment, and Tanzania and many other African countries are rapidly losing their primary forests. The deforestation is so predominant that complete denudation is forecast in many areas within the next decades. With a growing population, the demands for wood are high – most Tanzanians do not cook with electricity or gas but with charcoal or firewood-fuelled stoves. It is also well known that many people earn their income from fuel wood and charcoal production, distribution and sales.

Wood is piled up for fuel in Mwale © Beate Apfelbeck

However, there is a simple solution to this problem – biomass briquettes made from organic waste. The women in our neighbourhood are trying to initiate the production of biomass briquettes in Mwale by providing the necessary equipment and a hands-on workshop in collaboration with the Tanzanian company ARTI energy. ARTI Energy is currently producing biomass briquettes (Mkaa Mkombozi) in partnership with Bagamoyo Brikwiti Company, and is offering training and workshops. Although biomass briquettes are available in Dar Es Salaam and have been successfully introduced in other African countries, there is currently no biomass briquette production in the Mbeya region of Tanzania.

By establishing a community-based biomass briquettes production from organic waste that would gradually replace charcoal and fuel wood, we aim to:

1. Decrease deforestation and the negative consequences of deforestation on soil erosion, water management and wildlife in the Mbeya region.

Can you see the bark mantis? © Beate Apfelbeck
A white-faced scops owl still feels at home in the neighbourhood in Mwale, but for how long? © Beate Apfelbeck

2. Establish a market for biomass briquettes as a fuel alternative in the Mbeya region.

3. Empower women to gain economic independence by increasing their direct income as new biomass briquette producers.

Our team consists of 15 women from our neighbourhood in Mwale. One woman called Anyesi M. Mkwama will lead the group and the production of biomass briquettes. To cover the costs of the course by ARTI Energy and all necessary materials to start the production of biomass briquettes, we are currently trying to raise money through crowdfunding. The organisation of the course will be led by Beate Apfelbeck and Musa Makomba.

Anyesi M. Mkwama, chairwoman of the biomasse briquettes initiative in Mwale © Beate Apfelbeck

Biomass briquettes are a simple and powerful way to reduce the pressure on Tanzanian forests while also promoting local business and economic development, and empowering women.

If you’d like to contribute to make a difference to this community and the environment, please click here.

Neighbourhood children in Mwale © Beate Apfelbeck
Africa Geographic Travel
Beate Apfelbeck

I first travelled to Tanzania in 2010 and was overwhelmed by the diversity of life, both nature and people, I encountered there. It is my second home now and I regularly travel to East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya) for several months a year. When I am not studying birds, I enjoy village life in south-west Tanzania, or go and explore the mountains and national parks in the region. As a biologist I study how environmental variation influences the behaviour and physiology of birds. I am also a passionate photographer and love to share my experiences of the African way of life and my adventures in the field.