Charcoal pyrolysis drum kiln

A charcoal kiln. Photo: Sekundemal / Getty Images.

SEI Africa recently hosted a conference for more than 50 representatives from government, the private sector, civil society and academia at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, aimed at understanding transitions to low-carbon energy development pathways in low-income countries.

Mbeo Ogeya, Research Fellow at SEI Africa, said “Sharing the latest research findings and engaging with policy-makers and other stakeholders is critical for understanding costs and benefits as well as opportunities of different options and pathways for the energy sector”.

Findings were presented from the TRANSrisk project, a three-year research effort under the European Union Horizon 2020 programme, with a focus on two case studies on Kenya’s charcoal and geothermal sectors.

Government priorities

Government representatives discussed their priorities for development and the energy sector. “The energy sector is one that will play a pivotal role in the attainment of our government’s development blueprint i.e. the Big Four Agenda, which seeks to enhance manufacturing, food security, universal healthcare and affordable housing. Besides pursuing our development goals, we are also committed to scaling down on our greenhouse emissions by 30% by 2030 in line with the country’s Paris Agreement targets,” said David Mutisya of the Directorate of Renewable Energy, reading remarks on behalf of Dr Eng. Joseph Njoroge CBS, Principal Secretary at the Kenyan Ministry of Energy. “To realise this, the country is deliberately focusing on low-carbon agriculture, afforestation and enhanced development of renewable energy”, continued Mutisya.

Stephen King’uyu from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry highlighted Kenya’s initiatives to tackle climate change anchored within the 2016 Constitution, Climate Change Act and National Climate Change Action Plan. He noted the shift towards low-carbon energy sources, including geothermal, wind and solar, as well as restoration of forests on degraded land, agroforestry, and the promotion of improved cookstoves and biogas.

Oliver Johnson, SEI Senior Research Fellow, said, “Although Kenya has recognised geothermal as a clean and cheap source of energy to drive its socio-economic development agenda, the risks and barriers have also increased, necessitating more research on how to manage the social, political, and economic issues around it.”

Olkaria goethermal plant, Kenya

The Olkaria Geothermal plant in Kenya. Photo: Mbeo Ogeya / SEI.

Sustainable charcoal?

While charcoal is widely used for cooking and heating by urban and rural households in Kenya, its production has been linked to deforestation prompting a ban by the government. However, Beatrice Despioch, a panellist and the founder of Eco-Charcoal Limited described another side to that story. “I believe sustainable charcoal production is possible and our business is an example of how that can be done”, said Despioch.

The social enterprise that Beatrice runs uses branches from indigenous trees, mainly acacia, that are sustainably harvested as opposed to cutting down whole ones for charcoal and briquette production. In addition, pruning of branches allow for trees and shrubs to regenerate, ensuring that they continue to trap greenhouse gases as well as provide fodder for livestock and wildlife.
Based in Kasigau, an important elephant migratory corridor between Tsavo East and West National Parks in Southern Kenya, the enterprise uses a 10-hectare plot as a demonstration site for training. Local communities are trained in establishing their own woodlots, pruning and producing charcoal using highly efficient kilns as a source of livelihood.

Biogas options

SEI Research Associate Takeshi Takama presented research from Indonesia on how rural farmers are benefiting from climate-smart agriculture and using biogas for clean energy. Some Indonesian farmers have shifted from cultivating rice to coffee, which is less water demanding. Waste from coffee husks, food and animal droppings are fed into bio-digesters to produce clean energy that is then used for cooking and roasting coffee beans. “With minimal modifications, the portable biogas digesters have the potential to be adopted in other regions, such as Africa, where it is hot throughout the year,” said Takama. He added that soil fertility in the coffee farms is enhanced with the application of the organic fertilizer produced as a by-product.

The conference ended with the launch of a major SEI-authored report that presents evidence that scaling up proven Nordic climate solutions in Kenya could reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, helping the country meet its Paris Agreement commitments. The research was funded by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra.

The Finnish Ambassador to Kenya, Erik Lundberg noted that Kenya has great potential to make use of appropriate green technologies that contribute to job creation, food security, improved human wellbeing, biodiversity conservation and provision of clean and affordable energy.

“We take pride in our Centre’s unique way of engaging stakeholders to dialogue around evidence-based scientific research to inform policy and practice, and the two events today serve to make those connections,” said Evelyn Namubiru-Mwaura, SEI Africa Centre Director, in her closing remarks.

Conference participants listen to proceedings.

Conference participants listen to proceedings. Photo: SEI.