Deforestation continues to be a threat to the Kakamega forest because of a higher firewood demand of about 1.5 million tons per year. In comparison, there is only a supply of an estimated 0.5 million tons. The illegal activity is said to be majorly carried out by women and girls who could be seen carrying volumes of firewood on their heads and backs, some for cooking and some to be sold for income.
In this regard, Eco2librium Company was formed, came up with a Stoves for Life Project in 2009, and immediately started distributing improved cookstoves that use less firewood and emit less smoke to the communities that surround Kakamega forest which is the only tropical rainforest in the country.
The Stoves for Life senior manager John Luseno said they realized Kakamega forest was facing destruction due to the increased population surrounding the forest and they saw the need to conserve it because of its diverse biodiversity.
Luseno added that the project has engaged over 12 local women groups who manufacture the improved cookstoves and then sell them to the company. The stoves are then serialized and distributed to installers who are a group of individuals who sell and install the cookstoves to households, cutting down the firewood usage by half hence reduction of pressure inside Kakamega Forest.
“We have created hundreds of thousands of job opportunities for communities around Kakamega forest so that they don’t destroy the forest. We are currently working with more than 120 different groups known as Installer Groups. The groups have an average of 7 members and 98% are women. We have so far installed a total of 248,740 improved cookstoves in more than 79,000 households. We are looking forward to expanding the project to other parts of the Western regions of Kenya as well introduce and implement the same in other parts of the country such as Lake Victoria and Mau Forest,” explains Luseno.
Valonji women’s producer group is found in Shinyalu a few meters from Kakamega forest. The group has 10 members, it started production of improved cookstoves in 2020 and immediately partnered with Eco2librium Company which was the only organization buying cookstoves and they were also taught the importance of conserving the Kakamega forest.
The group’s chair lady Mary Modani said before the formation of the group her members used to go to the forest to get firewood and logs for sale as that was the only option they had, noting that the introduction of cookstoves made her members cease going to the forest to cut down trees for firewood because they get good income from the cookstoves. Apart from Eco2librium educating them on the importance of planting their own farm trees, she says the organization has gone ahead and planted the trees for them on their farms.
“Since 2010, we have supplied more than 50,000 cookstoves to the Company. The income has not only enabled us to come up with different projects as a group and at individual levels, but we have at many times been selected to be among the policymakers’ teams, we now don’t have time and reason to go and destroy our forest unless if it’s just for a nature walk,” said Modani.
Ann Shivogo is the Msamaria installer group supervisor while Rosa Ingati is the group’s chair lady. Msamaria is a group of 15 members that began in the year 2018, all of them are women, who have been contracted by Eco2librium to install improved cookstoves in households around the Kakamega forest and so far, they have installed close to 3,000 cookstoves which they say has helped to reduce deforestation in the forest as the number of women and girls seen carrying firewood from the forest has drastically reduced.
Both of them said they used to be frequent visitors inside Kakamega Forest to fetch firewood as well as cut down trees to burn charcoal as they were suppliers of firewood and charcoal to schools, but the introduction of cookstoves installation has seen them change for the better.
They added that the reasons, why the community has embraced the cookstoves, are because they use very little firewood, they are affordable sold at 160 shillings, and Eco2librium pays for all the installations so the community isn’t charged any installation fee.
“We stopped the charcoal burning business and selling of firewood because we now have a source of income. The income we get from Eco2librium, we are able to run our own projects and also do farming comfortably, we have built houses, paid fees for our children, and save some amount,” they said.
Everline Lwombo lives at Ivakale village, a few meters from Kakamega forest. She is a mother of seven and uses improved cookstoves that were installed for her in 2018 to prepare meals for her family since then she said her trips to Kakamega forest to search for firewood have reduced to only two trips per week and sometimes none because of her cookstoves nature of using very little firewood.
She recalled her frequent visits almost 10 times per day inside Kakamega Forest to fetch firewood when she used to cook with traditional three stones. She said she could wake up as early as 4 am to be the first one in the forest as she also used to be a firewood vendor.
“I used to go to the forest very early in the morning to cut down several trees for firewood. But since 2018, I quit the business of selling firewood. Cooking with the improved cookstoves that use less firewood, has reduced my expenditure by half and I have channeled the remaining money to farming my small portion of land and I now have a retail shop,” explained Everline.
A few meters from Everline’s home lives Purity Chesore who also uses her two improved cookstoves that were installed in 2019 to cook for her family of 10. Purity disclosed that she chose to quit cooking with the traditional three stones after realizing a decline in forest visits by the majority of her friends and neighbors because they were all cooking with cookstoves.
“I realized I was the only one frequenting the Kakamega Forest for firewood, so I asked my neighbors the secret and they told me they were using improved cookstoves that use little firewood with very less to no smoke and that prompted me to buy two,” added Purity.
The Kakamega Forest National Reserve Honoree Warden Solomon Kitaa explains that he has been in the forest for the past 32 years and the community living near the forest used to go inside the forest to farm, carry out illegal activities, cut down trees for firewood and charcoal burning and also to graze inside the forest which led to the destruction of the Forest.
Solomon who is also a tour guide agreed that the introduction of energy-saving cookstoves not only to communities around Kakamega forest but to Kakamega as a whole has brought the greatest impact to the forest, as the majority now know the importance of planting their own farm trees and this has seen a decline of forest visits by the community.
“Kakamega Forest is now improving, trees are regrowing and if you come here now you will see a secondary forest growing really well. Indigenous trees that were destroyed 10 years back are now growing,” he explains.
Solomon added that the conservation of Kakamega Forest will see plenty and a consistent supply of water in Kakamega as it is the source of rivers and water catchment areas. People will get fresh air, and enough rainfall for farming hence high food production, creation of employment opportunities for instance casuals, scouts, and tour guides, the attraction of tourists, and educational purposes since it’s the only tropical rainforest in Kenya.
By Brenda Imai