BY PIUS SAWA
Two local youths have started a programme to provide affordable cooking energy to rural households in the country, saving rural Zimbabweans from walking long distances to fetch firewood from diminishing forests.
Households have to cook meals at least three times a day, but families across Zimbabwe, especially those in rural areas have only one source of energy – firewood. Not only is it dangerous to human health because of the carbon emitted, it is also harmful to the environment and contributes to climate change.
“Our target is Zimbabwe’s rural population. These communities mainly use firewood to cook. A few years ago, it used to be easy to access firewood, but because of massive deforestation, people now have to travel long distances to get firewood,” Nicholas Toronga said.
Toronga and his partner Tinotenda Makuvire met in 2016 as Mastercard Foundation Scholars at McGill University in Canada. They were selected for the scholarship for their academic talent, social consciousness and leadership qualities.
As engaged students, the two started discussing how they could use their education to benefit their community.
Toronga, who is pursuing studies in finance, and Makuvire, who is studying engineering, decided to build a low-cost bio-digester that will harness animal waste to produce biogas for household cooking.
Their initiative, ZimDigester, will provide biogas to low-income Zimbabwean households.
In the past, it was women and children who would go to the forests to fetch firewood, but that is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
“People are now relying on buying the firewood from local vendors who have seen this as an opportunity to make money and charge exorbitant prices for it. People have no other option, but to buy the firewood. In a community where unemployment is high and people are already struggling, this just makes life difficult,” Makuvire said.
According to data gathered by Global Forest Watch, Zimbabwe lost 373 000 hectares of tree cover from 2001 through 2012, which is about 2% of the country’s total forest cover. These losses are attributed to the use of forests as the main source of fuel in rural areas.
Toronga observes that few measures have been put in place since the report was released to protect forests. According to him, clean energy is the way to go.
Since most households in rural Zimbabwe and semi urban areas own an animal, waste will be a readily available raw material for the generation of biogas.
“Most people in rural areas have domestic animals they rear, so we are going to leverage on that to power the bio-digester. In essence, everyone controls the source of fuel. If they purchase a bio-digester, they will have one less headache to deal with,” Toronga added.
He said the bio-digester is easy to use and the only thing that the user has to do is to feed the animal waste and water into the bio-digester and let the digester do its work.
The due plan to produce 30 bio-digesters for their test run. Depending on early sales during the initiative’s initial rollout in the first two months, the project will continue to produce more bio-digesters for low-income families.
“We have developed our bio-digester and we are still iterating it to make it as efficient as possible, while also putting in place infrastructure on the ground for the project. This involves talking to the communities about the importance of preserving their forests. Our aim is to cover most of rural Zimbabwe in one year, but that depends on the success and feedback from the first phase of the project,” Makuvire said.
The cost of one bio-digester is estimated to be around US$85, with a lifespan of three years and with no repairs, meaning that if every household can have a bio-digester, many forests will be saved.
ZimDigester won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge in 2018, a competition that rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth. These young leaders earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue impactful projects in their communities.
A collaboration between the Mastercard Foundation and The Resolution Project, the Resolution Social Venture Challenge provides a pathway to action for socially responsible young leaders who want to create change that matters in their communities.
Makuvire and Toronga are optimistic that they will overcome challenges to change people’s perceptions of new, affordable and clean energy solutions.