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One problem, many answers.

As usual, your correspondent Wycliffe Muga raises a highly pertinent issue in the Letter from East Africa. In his latest column ('How to stop desertification', African Business, July 2009 issue) he takes on the question of increasing desertification and practical solutions to halt, or at least slow, this disturbing and damaging phenomenon.

It is an amazing fact that around half of sub-Saharan Africa's energy requirements are still met by the burning of biomass, i.e. wood, charcoal and animal dung. But wood and charcoal burning on open fires is inherently inefficient--much of the energy is wasted--and contributes to desertification as Africa's precious timber is chopped down for fuel. In fact, there have been a number of initiatives launched in Africa that have attempted to address desertification. One such initiative, although not African, has been designed for the developing world (including Africa) by the Aprovecho Research Centre in the US and the Shenghou Stove Manufacturers of China.

They have pooled their experience and skills to produce a cheap, robust and efficient stove for mass production that can be used in developing countries. The stoves, which are already on the market in Africa, replace dirty and polluting kerosene and open fires and can save a substantial amount of fire-wood and charcoal burning.

Another initiative that springs to mind is Kampala Jellitone Suppliers, Uganda's first producer of briquettes made from agricultural waste. Made mainly from dried and compressed sawdust, peanut husks and coffee waste, the fuel replaces wood and charcoal, so helping to protect woodlands.

Both these projects were the recipients of the 2009 Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, but there are many more initiatives throughout Africa that are attempting to halt desertification and loss of forests by providing efficient means to burn wood and charcoal and also more sustainable fuels.

It may well be that, as Muga reports, "with cooking gas and electricity distant and improbable aspirations", the use of charcoal and firewood will continue to contribute to environmental degradation, but a multiple approach to the problem--including finding a better use for trees that will provide rural peoples with incomes--is certainly the way forward.

Janet Udogu-Welles

Nairobi, Kenya
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Title Annotation:Arresting desertification
Author:Udogu-Welles, Janet
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Aug 1, 2009
Previous Article:Letter from economy class.
Next Article:Corrections.

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