One of the hardest hit and most important forested area of the country, the Mau forest reserve, has lost a quarter of its trees over the last fifteen years after land has been cleared by farmers and loggers. The forest acts like a giant water tower, storing rain during the wet season and releasing the water gradually through rivers during the long arid months. But in recent years, many of these rivers have dried up, causing severe hardship to farmers.
All across Kenya, trees come under pressure from the need for more farming land and also from the demand for charcoal. Firewood and charcoal are the only affordable source of fuel for many Kenyans, particularly in rural communities. This means that in many regions, hills have been stripped of their trees. This not only affects the microclimate, but leads to soil erosion and damage to crops when heavy rains pour down denuded hillsides and wash away harvests.
Now, one secondary girls school in Kiambu, central Kenya, is doing its bit to save the trees in its region. An Alertnet article highlights how the school has installed special toilets which break down human waste. These toilets, which were funded by the European Union, have a large bio-digester underground, where all the waste is broken down by bacteria. This process produces gas as a by-product and the bio-gas is transferred along pipes to the schools kitchen. Here, it is used as a clean energy source for the cooking of meals to feed over 800 students who attend the school. Meeting all the school’s energy needs, this saves over 100 dollars each month on fuel, as well as extra fees which no longer have to be paid to companies who empty pit latrines.
Previously the school bought 21 tonnes of firewood (three lorry-loads) to last each three-month term. This equates to wood from around 50 mature trees and locals are sure it has helped preserve four acres of nearby woodland which would eventually have had to be felled to supply firewood. As well as saving vital trees, the special latrine system can in the future be adapted to produce natural fertiliser from the by-products of the digestion process. This could be used on land where the school grows vegetables.
The success of the project has inspired others to begin producing biogas from the waste of their farm animals. But most importantly, the school and all its children feel that in their small way, they are helping to protect the environment and reduce the impact of climate change. One student told the Alertnet reporter “I urge every person here to start using biogas so that we can save our environment.” Hopefully, such commitment and passion can be replicated across Kenya as more people come to understand the importance of protecting the country’s trees and forests.