Tensions with Food Security and a New Clay Stove Idea

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!

Paint Can Charcoal Stove: It doesn't look like much, but this stove is 50% more efficient than the wire-mesh charcoal stove typically used here in Chad.

Paint Can Charcoal Stove: It doesn’t look like much, but this stove is 50% more efficient than the wire-mesh charcoal stove typically used here in Chad.

Close-up of the Stove's Top:  the grate of metal rods anchored in the clay which provides the shelf for the charcoal.  The clay around the charcoal retains the heat and makes the stove more efficient.

Close-up of the Stove’s Top: the grate of metal rods anchored in the clay which provides the shelf for the charcoal. The 3-inch / 10-cm clay rim around the charcoal retains the heat.

Paint Can Stove w/ Water Pot: The water pot sits right above the hot coals whose efficiency is boosted on the sides by a 3-inch / 10-cm rim of clay.

Paint Can Stove w/ Water Pot: The water pot sits right above the hot coals.

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.

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Views of Street Life from the Back of my Moto

Today, my internet didn’t work.  And water didn’t come out of the tap, shower, or toilet.  So, I decided to go downtown.  I ran an errand to the post office (which was surprisingly efficient, except they didn’t have change for a 1000 CFA note (~$2), so I had to buy 2 stamps instead of one.  I also discovered that the ATMs here only take VISA cards–and those VISA cards need European chips inside the card.  Since I have a Mastercard debit card, I will need to find more creative ways to fund the next 40 days in Chad.  It’s good to experience difficulty in accessing money.  I am discovering first hand the plight of most Chadians as they struggle with managing their cash on a daily basis.  Unlike the US, Chad is truly a cash society.  Credit cards are not an option at all.

Over the last few days, I met a number of people who in turn have offered introductions to more people.  I hope to be busy meeting a lot of people over the next two weeks.  If the meetings go through, I will definitely have more to write about, so stay tuned!

I am also posting a few photos I managed to snap while riding on the back of a moto through NDJ.   What I didn’t get a photo of was my white knuckles from riding through the crazy traffic while shoulder to shoulder with other motos and tailgating (and being tailgated by cars and trucks.   Life here requires living by the Russian proverb, “Let chaos be your friend.”

[If you click on the photos, they should enlarge for better viewing.]

Near NDJ's Central Market

Near NDJ’s Central Market

A lady buys some tomatos from a roadside vendor.

A lady buys some tomatos from a roadside vendor.

Look for the child who is along for the shopping trip.

Look for the child who is along for the shopping trip.

Many of the roads in NDJ are dirt.  This one has been graded and may be paved before the end of the year.

The Chinese have begun work to pave many of the roads in NDJ. This one is still “in process.”

I have seen street vendors selling charcoal openly on the side of the road in spite of the government ban.

I have seen street vendors selling charcoal openly on the side of the road in spite of the government ban.

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Social Networking and Solar Power

This past week has been a quite a bit slower in terms of progress.  Early in the week, I was able to connect with a local businessman who emigrated to Canada and has now returned to Chad for business.  He has many connections in the area and seems to be a very savvy entrepreneur.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that his French, Chadian Arabic, English, and two other local languages are flawless, and he can switch between all of them seamlessly!  He has offered to help ENVODEV find a replacement vehicle for use in Moundou.  He knows of a 2006/2007 Toyota Hilux in great condition.  The catch is it costs about $24K.  Everything is expensive in Chad, and good cars (even used ones in good condition) sell at a premium.  

So if you’re inspired by ENVODEV’s work here, please help us fund the purchase of this vehicle!  Every donation helps!


An example of the panels we could get for the office in Moundou.  It's possible to install them in multiple configurations.

An example of the panels we could get for the office in Moundou. It’s possible to install them in multiple configurations.

Last week, I began talking with a Chadian solar company COMECA-SARL that imports efficient German panels and installs them for NGOs and private businesses.  They have gained a solid reputation here in the capital, and I inquired about the possibility of an installation for the office in Moundou.  This week, I coordinated for them to take me to one of their nearby projects, which happened to be a mission hospital outside the city (marked on google maps NW of NDJ as “CEF”).  The head of their installation team walked me through all of the different panel and battery locations and showed me the inverters and regulators used for each building.  I was impressed by the solid construction and professional service by which they accomplished their work at the hospital.  The solar panels can be installed completely on the roof, partially on the roof, or free-standing in a shade-free place.  The hospital administrator, an expat from the UK, was raving about the panels– he was highly satisfied.   After the visit, I asked for a price quote for the number of panels and batteries needed to run the equipment at ENVODEV in Moundou.  They promised the quote this weekend.

This solar panel is partly freestanding and partly on the roof.

This solar panel is partly freestanding and partly on the roof.

Voltage regulator, inverter, and circuit breaker panel

Voltage regulator, inverter, and circuit breaker panel

Even inside a compound, it helps to have a good place to put the valuable batteries and equipment.  Some buildings at the hospital had this lockable enclosure.

Even inside a compound, it helps to have a good place to put the valuable batteries and equipment. Some buildings at the hospital had this lockable enclosure.

I mentioned in a previous post that I delivered two computers to Aquilas and Ghislain when they came to NDJ.  The electric grid in Chad is very inconsistent.  The power constantly cuts out, and then when it comes back on, the voltage surges and fries whatever electronics are plugged into the wall.  The surges apparently are even too strong for surge protectors.  Hence, the need for solar power.  ENVODEV Chad has already lost 3 laptops, and before I came, they were unable to send reports or communicate via email.  Solar power will be a critical asset for operations in Moundou.  

Again–if you feel inclined to help with funding these solar panels, please donate!  Solar panels would greatly enable the work in Moundou!

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Meeting with the Chadian Secretary General of Urban Development in Chad

This weekend was productive.  I managed to connect with a top-level government official in charge of Urban Development in Chad.  He has expressed interest in helping @ENVODEV start a charcoal project in N’Djamena (the city will henceforth be abbreviated as NDJ).  He drove me to one of his four farm complexes outside NDJ and we walked around his land at 730am–the time of day with a more bearable temperature at 91F / 33C.


We discussed his recent promotion to Secretaire-Generale, his new responsibilities, his farm acreage, his different crops, his workers (3 permanent employees and 12 part-time employees for the harvest at this plot of 16 hectares), his irrigation system, and of course, partnering with him to start a charcoal project in NDJ.  He was very optimistic about ENVODEV’s work and said that if our pilot in NDJ was successful, the Chadian government would be fully supportive and could maybe help us expand our projection!  This would be a huge blessing!

I can’t believe that within 8 days of my arrival I have already met with one of the highest ranking and influential men in the Chadian government.  It’s truly a blessing.  I feel a lot of pressure to continue to work hard to put the rest of the pieces in place to expand this project.  These include mapping out the region’s agricultural resources, making a list of potential local and international partners in NDJ, learning how the logistical “groupement” system works inside NDJ, and establishing a list of possible project sites. 

Following are some more photos that I took on the drive back from the farm.

Below is the typical landscape outside NDJ.  The Sahara is definitely moving south!  According to a 1974 map of Chad, this used to be grasslands bordering extensive forests.  This is why deforestation is such a big issue in Chad.Image

Below is the sign marking the entrance to the farm.



Below is how the local farmers make their coffee: with a small wire basket to hold charcoal.  Our project in NDJ will meet this daily need for cooking fuel with charcoal that does not contribute to deforestation!  



Below is an example of the seeds they are growing.  The hand belongs to the Secretary General’s personal chauffeur who joined us in walking around the farm.


The photo below of a pile of agricultural waste an example of what we would carbonize and press into briquettes.  Image

Upon our return into NDJ, I saw the large billboard and military checkpoint where wood charcoal is seized by police.  The Secretary General said that many people are burning manure instead.  Here is a picture of a man moving bags of manure with his donkey and cart.Image 

And finally, here is the typical traffic jam of cows.




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First Meeting with Aquilas and Ghislain

First Meeting with Aquilas and Ghislain

Initial meeting with @ENVODEV Chad’s national leadership. Delivered two computers (thanks Nate and Nicole Jui) and some other equipment and documents. We discussed intentions to begin experimenting with a clean cookstove made of #rammedearth when I arrive in Moundou in a couple weeks. I was very impressed with these men and all the work they are doing. It’s an honor to be a small part of this great organizaton.

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Tweets from Chad!

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Work Update!

Today, I finally managed to get my cell phone: the essential tool for working in Chad.  Tomorrow begins my orientation to the city, along with making calls to arrange meetings with more than a dozen contacts I’ve already made in the area.  Looking forward to finding a way to bring alternative charcoal to N’Djamena and to experiment with building efficient rammed-earth cooking stoves in Moundou.

Feel free to send me an email [charles.dokmo (at) envodev.org] if you have helpful contacts in Chad or you want to discuss these projects as I’m working on them.  I could use any and all help to move these projects forward!  Follow me on Twitter as well at @chuckdinchad.

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