Making more charcoal with less wood: Train-the-trainers workshop in DRC’s Yangambi Landscape concluded

By: Yvonne Baraza

Closing ceremony train-the-trainers trajectory on improved carbonisation. DRC, Yangambi landscape. Photo credits: Fiston Wasanga

On Sept. 29, 2021, the Provincial Minister of Energy for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mesemo Wa Mesemo was the chief guest of honor during the commissioning of the 2021 closure of the train-the-trainers trajectory on how to produce more charcoal with less wood and emissions in Yangambi landscape. The Governing Multifunctional Landscapes (GML) project funded by the European Union, enabled capacity enhancement on improved carbonization techniques, which took place in three training sessions between September 2020 and September 2021.

The workshops conducted under the GML sustainable woodfuel project were organized and facilitated by the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR – ICRAF) in partnership with the forestry and transformation company (CFT). Also present during the commissioning was the administrator of the territory of Isangi and the chiefs from the sectors and chiefdoms, among other dignitaries. 

Wood and its by-products are the primary source of energy in DRC, representing 85 percent of the country’s total energy production. The main objective of the training for charcoal producers sessions was to attract participants from different villages to enable dissemination of improved carbonization techniques to all members of sustainable charcoal producer associations in the landscapes of Yangambi. The idea was that they could sustainably produce charcoal from wood residues in partnership with the forestry and transformation company (CFT) in Kisangani.

 The GML project funded by the European Union in the Yangambi landscapes currently has interventions in 19 villages supporting 234 households, covering 480 hectares planted in agroforestry. Sixty people were awarded certificates for their participation in the improved charcoal making training course, having been equipped to make improved charcoal kilns that produce two to three times the amount of charcoal for the same amount of wood.

“Wood energy is our most important energy source. I encourage wood-energy producers to adopt sustainable charcoal production practices. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that those who cut down a tree must plant another, thus ensuring the sustainable supply of wood energy in the Yangambi landscape.” Mr Mesemo Wa Mesemo – Provincial Minister of Energy for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In 2020–2021, selected members of newly established producer associations that had committed to sustainable harvesting and tree growing practices benefited from a participatory training program that included theory and actively constructing and comparing kilns.

Demo kiln improved carbonisation training, Democratic Republic of Congo Yangambi landscape. Photo credits: Fiston Wasanga

With the support of the European Union, the training program led by charcoal producer and expert in improved carbonization from the east of DRC, Mpuruta-Ka-Tito Rugenge, built upon the principles of train-the-trainer and peer-to-peer skills enhancement. The training focused on improved practices for using earth-kilns, with and without an external chimney, because the dispersed nature of charcoal production precluded other stationary kiln options.

 “Our work with charcoal producers is a collaborative effort by which farmers and local stakeholders step up to design sustainable charcoal production systems, said Georges Mumbere, junior expert in wood fuel at CIFOR.

 Through common efforts in planning and setting up nurseries and fire protection measures, and through family-level efforts in integrating trees in agricultural production cycles, sustainable charcoal production becomes a reality, he said.

“Solutions beyond the kiln’ is our approach; from which we develop locally appropriate capacity building trajectories for improving charcoal making,” said Jolien Schure: CIFOR-ICRAF associate. “We monitor improved efficiency and uptake and adapt the trainings program as we go. Training can never be a single solution. The producers we train are committed to being part of the sustainable charcoal production solution through tree planting and membership of their associations. More support is needed to lift these better practices to the mainstream for all charcoal entering the market of Kisangani to be from sustainable wood sourcing and efficient carbonization practises.”

A newly established Kisangani-based Women’s Charcoal-Maker Association AFEVADES (Association des Femmes Valorisatrices des Déchets de Scierie AFEVADES) that produces charcoal out of the waste produced by sawmilling were also part of the training program. These women, who have access to a more concentrated and transportable wood supply and closer to the city where materials for a chimney can be obtained, were trained to use an external vent with an improved earth kiln.

The efficiency of both improved earth kiln techniques with and without chimneys increased from 11 percent to 22-30 percent, respectively, on a dry-wood basis compared to prior kilns – effectively more than doubling production volumes and profits.

Furthermore, they save time with the improved kilns, which produce charcoal in about half the time — carbonization time is reduced to around five days compared to 17 days for traditional kilns.

“We initially wasted a lot of wood and other recourses during production, but now we have learned how to separate the wood by species, to leave space for air to circulate in the kiln, and to properly cover the wood with leaves before covering it with soil. With the same amount of wood that we had previously used to produce three bags, they are now producing six bags,” said Fatouma Otoke, president and member of the Women’s Charcoal-Maker Association.

An essential focus of the improved carbonisation training program recognises that technical expertise is significant and valuable only when applied in balance with other abilities and methods towards self-reliance.

The training programs offer skills training in all stages of developing technologies related to small-scale charcoal production, including the design, construction, operation, maintenance, repair, and evaluation of improved charcoal kilns. Uptake is being promoted by participatory training train-the-trainers format, in which producers can experience the benefits of the new techniques and then share the message with fellow producers.

The Charcoal Producers Associations’ code of conduct and peer review mechanism include respect for these new improved techniques, thereby facilitating their use as part of the development of “green charcoal value chain” and preventing any unintended negative consequences, such as producers venturing further into the forest because of increased profit margins.

Throughout the program, participants are encouraged to take full and active roles in their enterprises and make decisions that will affect them and the people they work and live with. They are urged to cooperate with others, identify and use the knowledge gained and available resources, and practice skills that help motivate people instil a sense of self-confidence and involve them in producing sustainable woodfuel.