Zambia has seen rampant deforestation to the extent that recent reports have suggested the country suffers the second highest deforestation rate per capita in the World. Up to 300,000 hectares of Zambia’s forests are being lost each year, with wood collection for cooking being a significant contributor to that loss. Added to this, wood-burning fires for cooking are a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions and over-exposure to these open fires during cooking can cause bronchitis, asthma, and lung cancer. According to the World Health Organisation, nearly 2 million people globally die prematurely per year from illness attributable to air pollution due to solid fuel use – more than the number of people who die each year from Malaria. Trees cut down for firewood also increases soil erosion and reduces nutrient flow; and heavy annual rains sweep fertile topsoil from the fields. This can result in negative impacts on agricultural outputs as well as regional climate change.
During 2014 ALERT undertook a project entitled “Safety and Sustainability in the Dambwa Forest, Zambia”. The purpose of this project was to provide a more sustainable method of cooking that will be actively embraced by rural communities in the long-term, thereby reducing the risk to health posed by regular exposure to carbon-monoxide and the risk to the environment through over-utilisation of natural resources. With funding provided by The Woodspring Trust, ALERT chose to partner on this project with co2balance, a leading authority on community carbon project development, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to implementation, surveys were conducted to provide baseline data of fuel usage and attitudes to the Forest.
During the project, a total of 336 low-carbon cookstoves were delivered - one to every household in all villages immediately surrounding the Dambwa Forest. Every household was also given an educational session on the need to protect and restore the Forest, the principle causes and impacts of deforestation, as well as how to use and maintain their low-carbon cookstove.
Following delivery of the stoves, fuel usage was reassessed; the per capita annual consumption rate was found to have fallen an average of 69% from previous rates. Surveyed households were very aware of the threats that wood removal from the Forest has upon its function, and many reported a sharp decline in trees over the last 10 year period. They reported many benefits of the stoves, including a reduced amount of time taken in the Forest to collect wood as less wood was needed, the reduction in tree-cutting effort, the food tasting better as a result of being cooked on the cookstoves as well as less smoke being produced during the cooking process. They expressed liking the cookstoves and the intention to continue using them.
Overall, the cookstoves have been welcomed by the Dambwa Forest communities. The collective will is now there for them to protect the Forest; and the cookstoves empower these local people to make a choice that will help them to do so.
To further add to the positive impact of this project, reforestation of the area is underway; and in partnership with Lion Encounter and Greenpop, over 1,900 indigenous trees have already been planted in the Dambwa Forest as part of on-going efforts to replace lost trees. A tree nursery has also been created to continue growing and planting of new trees. Future plans include providing vocational training to communities as alternatives to cutting trees for charcoal production.
ALERT are very pleased to be involved in contributing towards the improvement of communities and environments thorugh projects such as the Cookstoves Programme. ALERT would like to thank the Woodspring Trust, co2balance, Lion Encounter, Greenpop, the Zambian Forestry Department, the Joint Forest Management Committee and the communities of the Dambwa Forest for making this project not only possible, but a success.