Today is the UN’s International Biodiversity Day designated to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues and build awareness that we all have a role to play in achieving the UN 2050 global vision of living in harmony with nature. Human activities are driving biodiversity loss and nature degradation, but we can act to turn things around and reset our relationship with nature. Changing cooking practices is how DelAgua is contributing to this reset and being part of the solution.
2.8 billion people still have no access to clean cooking technologies and fuels. They use traditional open fires which burn inefficiently and consume a lot of wood as well as emitting 2.3% of global CO2 emissions and 58% of global black carbon emissions, polluting the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. By changing how families cook we can have an immediate positive impact on the natural world and create a more harmonious and sustainable relationship between communities and nature.
Here’s how our stoves project in Rwanda is achieving this:
Rwanda uses over 6 million tons of firewood per year for household cooking and cooking accounts for 90% of Rwanda’s biomass energy consumption. The DelAgua stove requires at least 50% less wood than traditional open fires and burns efficiently using just small twigs and tinder. Each stove, over its 5- year life, saves the equivalent of over 10 tons of CO2 being released into the atmosphere and by keeping more trees in the ground, greater levels of CO2 can also be captured from the atmosphere. From September 2021 our next generation stove will launch with a 10-year useful life, saving the equivalent of over 35 tons of CO2 emissions.
Reducing biomass for cooking is saving 64km2 of forestry annually, an area the size of Manhattan, or, 8,000 football pitches. Preserving Rwanda’s forestry means saving the remarkable diversity of plants, insects, birds and mammals found there. Despite being small in size, Rwanda has one of the richest varieties of flora and fauna in Africa. This biodiversity is under threat from the pressure on their environment from a large and growing population and in particular from the harvesting of firewood.
Most famously, Rwanda’s forestry is home to half the worldwide population of Mountain Gorillas, the world’s most endangered ape. Only about one thousand remain in the wild and they are on the IUCN Red List of wildlife threatened with extinction. The DelAgua stove enables rural communities to sustain themselves without encroaching onto forestry for firewood and damaging the ecosystem. The Mountain Gorillas’ survival depends on limiting human intrusion and disturbance and the conservation of forestry. The good news is that today Mountain Gorilla numbers are slowly rising.
The Rugezi Marsh,20km2 of wetlands in Northern Rwanda, is one of the country’s most important reservoirs and an inspiring example of how it is possible to turn around biodiversity loss and nature degradation.
This pristine ecosphere, home to many species of birds including the rare Grey Crowned Crane, was being sucked dry by extensive agricultural exploitation. The marsh lies in a valley surrounded by hills which used to be covered in trees but which have been cut for firewood and fodder. Rwanda has frequent periods of heavy rainfall and this combined with deforestation is a destructive combination. With the slopes denuded of trees, the rain washes the soil from the slopes into the marsh . This silt damages the marsh and the lakes it feeds, causing water levels to drop which in turn impacts the local climate and wildlife. A shortage of water also affects local agriculture and the provision of water for hydroelectric power which is essential to the region’s development and prosperity. Further damage to the ecosystem is caused because the local communities have to cut the grass and reeds on the marsh because there is no forestry left to provide animal fodder and this increases water evaporation. The communities were aware that damaging the environment was destroying their livelihood but there are no easy solutions.
In 2016 a programme of reforestation was begun, planting Eucalyptus and other varieties of trees, which stabilised the soil and provides a sustainable source of firewood. DelAgua also started distributing stoves to the district and these stoves, which reduce by more than 50% the amount of firewood needed, have played an integral part in the success of the reforestation programme and the restoration of the Rugezi Marsh. Today the wetland is well protected, trees are intact, birds are returning and the water levels rising. The story of the Rugezi Marsh reminds us, on Biodiversity Day, that we can act to turn around the damage human activities have caused and reset our relationship with nature.