5 Jun 2020

We all have a role to play: Coffee farmers in Kenya moving towards environmentally friendly energy sources

On World Environment Day we share the story of how coffee farmers are opting for environmentally friendly energy sources for their day-to-day life.

Mary Syokau is a 75-year-old widow and a member of Musilili Farmers’ Cooperative Society. She was born at a time when communities and families solely relied on glowing embers for lighting at night. "We were very happy whenever there was moonlight because we would extend the nights and play outside with age mates. Life is different today. It is not safe even during the brightest moonlight. Before I got my solar kit, I used to sleep at 7 PM because I had no way of lighting my house," Mary says this as she dances to celebrate the glowing solar lights in her 3-roomed house and security light outside. Mary's homestead is among the many that are not connected to the national grid as they cannot afford the connection and pay the monthly bills. While she has been using a kerosene lamp, she confesses that many nights are dark especially when she doesn’t have money or someone to send for kerosene at the local shops which are 3km away.

To light up her evenings, Mary received a solar kit that contains a rechargeable battery, wiring cables with 4 sockets and switches, 4 bulbs, a solar radio and a solar torch. As the connection is finalized, Mary requests for the solar radio to be tuned to Musyi FM and then bursts into a joyous laughter. Musyi FM is a radio station broadcasting in Mary's local dialect - Kamba. “I will not be going to my neighbors to listen to politics and music. They will now be coming here.”

Mary’s homestead is among the 55 others that have received a solar kit under the Climate Change Academy. Now in the final leg of the first implementation phase, the project which commenced in 2017 on a large scale seeks to cushion coffee farmers against the impacts of climate change through training on sustainable agricultural land management practices and income diversification. Among its key pillars is promoting the adoption of green/clean energy among coffee farmers. This is premised on the fact that while (coffee) farmers are most affected by the impacts of climate change, they too can play a part in mitigating these effects by choosing environmentally friendly energy sources.

Another approach taken to promote this choice among coffee farmers is the distribution of 1,000 improved cook stoves to households. As opposed to traditional cook stoves which essentially burn in the open air and in the process lose a lot of energy leading to more use of firewood, the improved cookstove is designed in a manner that retains more heat thus requiring less fuel replenishment. Mary Muoki, a member of Musilili Farmers’ Cooperative Society is one of the recipients of the cookstove. Previously, she used the traditional stove which she says was cumbersome and would take a long time to cook. She has a different take on the improved cookstove, “this stove is unique, it is clean, easy to light and remains hot long after you put out the fire. This way, food remains hot long after cooking and does not need to be reheated. The traditional cook stove was a fuel guzzler,” she says. On one side of the kitchen is a pile of dry firewood which Mary says will last her several months. Previously, a similar pile would have only lasted 2 months at most.

Besides firewood, households can also use briquettes or charcoal on the improved cook stove. This has seen some households develop an inclination for briquettes which are not only cheaper (USD 0.05/Kg) but also burn longer. This is a win for the environment as it means less reliance on wood fuel and the repurposing of organic waste such as coffee husks and pineapple waste which based on the traditional disposal methods, release greenhouse gases (methane and nitrogen) to the atmosphere during decomposition. Instead, such waste is now used to make briquettes.

Environmentday stove

Transition to renewable and cleaner sources of energy, while increasing energy efficiency has been found to be one of the most important steps humanity can take to mitigate climate change. With collective interventions under the Climate Change Academy showing a 60 percent reduction in the tonnage of firewood used among target coffee farmer households, it is time to hasten our move towards environmentally friendlier sources of energy.

The Climate Change Academy is implemented with the financial support of Max Havelaar Netherlands, National Post Code Lottery (Netherlands) and in partnership with We Effect East Africa.