The Briquette Programme in Virunga started in 2008. It is vital work, as a viable, alternative fuel for cooking and heating must be found for the communities of Virunga that will reduce the current dependency on charcoal.
The illegal charcoal trade is depleting the forests of Virunga at a rapid rate, destroying the habitat of the mountain gorilla and the other wildlife that depends on it for survival. Estimates of the time remaining before the forests are gone are depressing. Five to ten years remain, unless a cost effective, reliable and sustainable alternative fuel can be shown to be a true alternative.
If there was one thing that would help the mountain gorillas in Virunga tomorrow, it would be the cessation of charcoal making. With every day, more trees are felled.
Top:Jean Bosco and Balemba in a briquette drying ‘greenhouse’ and a community learning the briquette-making process
Bottom: bags of briquettes for sale in Goma and the briquettes burning well….
Top left and right, charcoal fires are easy to spot and rangers discover a kiln workers camp….
Below – immense areas are totally cleared. Virgin forest, gone forever.
The aim of the Virunga briquette programme is to encourage and enable 300,000 people in the North Kivu province, to change from using charcoal for cooking and heating, to using sustainable, biomass briquettes.
To initially encourage communities to make briquettes, Virunga NP bought back the briquettes, at a fixed price, selling them on in places such as Goma, to the south of the Park. Training schemes were set up and presses and other equipment provided. Around 7,500 people were soon employed in briquette making jobs, who might otherwise be involved in the charcoal trade.
It is an enormous undertaking, but critically important for the wildlife of Virunga.
It takes a team of 6 people per wooden pressing machine.
In basic terms, the briquette material must be first collected (sawdust, husks, leaves), crushed, left to decompose, mixed with water and then poured into the cylinder.
Using the wooden press, two briquettes are made per cylinder. Once made, the briquettes need to dry out and this can take from 2 days to two weeks, depending on their composition, the weather and where they are stored.
Buying the briquettes at a fixed price encourages communities to make more of them.
Once their use takes off and is more widespread, local enterprises should develop, providing steady jobs and income, whilst buyers have a steady and sustainable fuel source.
The total, per briquette press and additional equipment needed equates to £192.
£2,000 would provide a total of 10 briquette presses and employ 60 people.
This would provide practical action on the ground to protect mountain gorillas from the destruction of their forested habitat.