On Wednesday, I got to meet with the Chadian director of Swiss Aid, a well respected development agency that first came to Chad in 1962. Swiss Aid focuses on supporting local civil society organizations (CSOs) to improve a core set of issues, including food security, human rights abuses, and gender inequality. He shared about Swiss Aid’s history in Chad, the evolution of their approaches to social change, the specific projects they’re working on, and some of the key challenges they face. He said that he might even be able to arrange a tour of some projects, depending on staff availability. The best part for me was he even gave me some good feedback on my work here in N’Djamena and helped me think through some of the challenges that I might face that were not previously apparent.
For my research here in NDJ, I have been trying to determine the feasibility of producing charcoal in N’Djamena (west-central Chad), but have encountered a difficult tension with food security here. Chad ranks 104/105 in terms of food security–only the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is worse. [Explore this website for more about food security in Chad and around the world.] Central Chad does not produce as much agricultural waste (corn husks and rice straw) as southern Chad, and the majority of what is produced in central Chad is apparently used to feed livestock. Thus, if we scaled our charcoal production model for southern Chad into central Chad, and we started paying higher prices to farmers for their agri-waste, we could incentivize them to divert livestock feed to us, potentially cause their livestock to perish, and further exacerbate an already desperate food security situation.
I mentioned this challenge to the director of Swiss Aid and told him that I was trying to research if this was true. He affirmed that this was a problem in this region of Chad and suggested we consider other materials to use in charcoal production here to avert this tension. He suggested sawdust or other organic materials that do not have the vital secondary uses.
Encouraged to make the connection with Swiss Aid, but a bit deflated that I would need to begin looking around for other materials to make charcoal in the city, I returned home to find an email from David De Army. It was an e-intro to Kevin Kung who is doing research for his MIT PhD in Kenya this summer on making charcoal out of organic materials found in urban dumps. The timing could not have been more perfect!
I spent the entire next day reading through the website of his organization, called Takachar. “Taka” means trash in Swahili, and they have been partnering with local Kenyan youth groups and trash-picking cooperatives to explore the best organic “trash” materials for making charcoal. The jury is still out on the list of viable organic material, but the current conclusion is: the drier, the better! I look forward to hearing more about his research as it progresses through the summer!
At the end of the week, I met with a local Chadian named Deborah who is interning at World Vision here in NDJ. She grew up in the neighborhood around where I am staying, and gave me and another friend a walking tour. We ended up at her family’s house where conversation eventually drifted to charcoal and then to ENVODEV’s planned experiments with rammed-earth cook stoves. She immediately got excited and walked me across the street to her relative’s house to show me their family’s version of an efficient cook stove.
The cookstove is made from a recycled paint bucket (sturdy enough for the job, but easy to work with–ie, easy to cut a hole in the side). She claimed that it was 50% more efficient than the wire mesh baskets used by most Chadian families to cook, and the clay around the top retained enough heat after cooking to heat water for a shower or washing.
This stove is used in the Central African Republic and Deborah’s cousin in Moundou makes these for her family. She claims that they have tried to show other Chadians its better efficiency, but they apparently are resistent to accept something that doesn’t come from Westerners. Maybe they just need Western endorsement?!?
Here are some photos of the stove I saw. It’s not “pretty”, but that’s probably because it’s well-used!
I really like this design for several reasons. It is small, functional, and probably more affordable than the other larger stove we are hoping to experiment with. It’s portability seems more compatible with Chadian cooking. Chadians apparently prefer to cook where it’s coolest, which could be outside under a tree, in the shade of a courtyard, and inside the house only if it’s raining outside. This stove’s portability could also preserve it through the seasonal flooding that occurs throughout the southern half of Chad every June through September. These are just my initial thoughts, but I am looking forward to experimenting with this stove idea alongside the stove designed by East Africa Trust in Malawi. We shall see if either are feasible for Chad.
Stay tuned for more developments this month. And please consider partnering with ENVODEV. ENVODEV needs your support to continue this work.