This article is one of a series looking at the 12 finalists for the World Challenge 09 - a global competition seeking to identify and reward projects and businesses which bring economic, social and environmental benefits to local communities through grassroots solutions. World Challenge 09 is run by BBC World News and Newsweek, in association with Shell.
World Challenge '09 finalist - Stoves for Survival
The Gorilla Organization launched the Stoves for Survival project to support local communities in tackling one of the greatest threats to mountain gorilla survival. Through capacity building and engaging local communities in conservation efforts, the Gorilla Organization is working towards its goal of securing the survival of the world’s last gorillas. The impoverished communities surrounding the Virunga National Park, DR Congo - home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla - are densely populated, with the majority of households practising subsistence farming and lacking basic amenities, including electricity. Families are therefore reliant on firewood and charcoal, used extensively for cooking and heating, but the use of these resources has a negative impact both socially and environmentally. The collection of firewood from the park is incredibly time-consuming and physically exhausting. Children are often involved which means their education suffers as a result, and burning fuel within the household damages health due to the large volumes of noxious smoke given off. Furthermore, both firewood collection and illegal charcoal production have a detrimental effect on the environment through habitat destruction.
How did the project come about?
The Gorilla Organization partnered with Congolese NGO AIDE-Kivu (Appui aux Initiatives de DE©veloppement et Gestion de l’Environnement au Kivu) to launch a fuel-efficient stove project in January 2008. The aim is to reduce the local communities’ reliance on the resources of the Virunga National Park through the production and distribution of fuel-efficient‚ ‘Jiko’ stoves, which reduce the consumption of firewood and charcoal by at least 55%. A stove production centre was set up and a multimedia campaign, involving a combination of discussions, radio broadcasts and leaflet distribution, has been educating the communities on the benefits of owning a stove, as well as covering topics related to environmental protection and conservation. The stoves produced in the centre are sold for $2 each, as purchasing them gives a sense of ownership and ensures the stoves are used and maintained, and the funds generated are reinvested in the project. The demand for stoves has increased rapidly since the project began, and at the end of 2008 a total of 496 stoves had been produced.
How does the project measure its achievements?
Families with Jiko stoves are now using just 1.5 sacks of charcoal per month instead of the four used before they owned a stove, and charcoal vendors from the local market have reported a drop in sales. Initial indications suggest that illegal charcoal production is being brought under control, with Stoves for Survival contributing to this. The project is still relatively new, so once it is fully established the Gorilla Organization will be able to measure the environmental impact it is having.
How does the project benefit the community and environment?
The time used collecting firewood and the amount of money spent on charcoal have been greatly reduced, giving the opportunity for income-generation and savings, as well as social activities. In addition, children are able to attend school on a more regular basis, as they are not tied up with firewood collection as often. Because the stoves use less fuel than a traditional fire, the volume of smoke produced is smaller and therefore far less detrimental to health. In terms of environmental benefits, the reduction in human pressure contributes to a more secure future for the national park, while burning a smaller amount of fuel also means that less carbon dioxide is produced and more trees remain standing, therefore contributing to the fight against climate change.
How does the project use environmental resources sustainably?
Jiko stoves are produced from just two materials: a metal barrel that forms the main body and clay, which makes up the stove’s ceramic components. The metal, which is recycled, is obtained from the market, where it is freely available, and the clay is sourced from an area where it is abundant and its removal has no detrimental effect on the environment. While charcoal and firewood are still used in the stoves, the quantities needed are far less, and to combat the detrimental effect of firewood collection even further, the Gorilla Organization also runs a tree-growing project. This encourages and assists the communities to replace the trees they use, and contributes to the sustainable use of environmental resources.
What are the long-term benefits of the project?
This project is a straightforward way to tackle three of the world’s greatest challenges: poverty, loss of biodiversity and climate change. The lives of those benefiting from stoves have improved considerably since the project began, with the money saved on charcoal helping to develop livelihoods. Health is improving as a result of reduced fuel consumption, and children are receiving a better education as they spend far less time collecting firewood. The environmental benefits are also considerable, as the demand for charcoal and collection of firewood from the park is steadily reducing, so in the long-term, the level of deforestation will fall. As reliance on the forest resources diminishes, the critically endangered mountain gorilla will prosper and the biodiversity of the Virunga National Park - a World Heritage Site - will flourish. The production and promotion of fuel-efficient stoves is also contributing towards the fight against climate change, which is one of today’s most widely discussed and pertinent issues. This project can operate on any scale, the benefits are immediate and the impact will continue indefinitely.
World Challenge '09 - who will get your vote?
It's up to the public to decide who wins this year's World Challenge competition. Online voting opens on 28 September and runs to 13 November. BBC World News is broadcasting six 30-minute programmes profiling each of the 12 World Challenge 09 finalists throughout October and November.
Find out more
World Challenge website and online voting: www.theworldchallenge.co.uk
Stoves for Survival: www.gorillas.org/Project!Firewood_Saving_Stoves