Richard Sultan

last updated Sat, Jun 24, 2023 6:41 PM

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5 mins read

Ex-female refugee conserving South Sudan's disappearing forest

By Richard Sultan
| Updated 18:41 24/06/2023
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Kide smoothening a clients stove. Photo Credit: Richard Sultan

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN: Vivian Kide, 21, writes numbers on tiny pieces of paper: one, two, until eight. She folds each piece of paper and holds them all in one folded palm, shakes and throws them on the ground for eight women to pick one each. 

"The number you choose will show when I will build your stove. I won't take on any new ones till I am done with your group," she instructed.

Kide's fame as an environment-friendly-stove-builder had risen in her neighbourhood in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, just a month after her husband left for Torit, the capital of the country's Eastern Equatoria State.

But this was not a skill she learned by choice. 

It all started in November 2021 when she realised she was spending much more on charcoal than food with her husband over 100 kilometres away. She decided to build her stove that uses less charcoal, a skill she learned while in a refugee camp in Uganda. 

Kide and her family were among millions of South Sudanese who fled to neighbouring Uganda in 2016 after a civil war that killed more than 200,000 people broke out in 2013 following a disagreement between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar.

At the BidiBidi refugee camp in Uganda, Kide, the second child and only girl of her parents, was her family's and parents' darling. She was like her mother's handbag on weekends, accompanying her to her group meetings and ferrying water, fetching firewood, and weeding crops.

In 2017, leaders of the refugee host communities in Uganda complained to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees or UNHCR that the activities of the refugees were taking a toll on their forest cover because refugees were cutting down trees for firewood. The UN agency, alongside its partners, then introduced the idea of fuel-efficient stoves.

These stoves have enclosures for wood or charcoal, which reduces heat loss and protects it against the wind. The reduced heat loss means the stove produces little or no smoke, leading to lower carbon emissions and the quantity of wood cut for charcoal.

Women in the refugee camps were trained in groups, and Kide's mother was a member of one of the groups. While accompanying her mother to attend training sessions, Kide would observe the process and later lend a helping hand to the mother.

Knowledge transfer

After voluntary repatriation back to South Sudan after the end of hostilities in 2018, Kide, like other former refugees, faced the same challenge of fuel, as most forests in the East African country were deforested for charcoal. 

Between 2001 and 2021, South Sudan lost about 12,800 hectares of tree cover, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation or FAO. This is equivalent to what is needed to absorb 38.3 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

FAO identified charcoal and firewood as the primary cause of deforestation. According to the Ministry of Environment, 90-99% of the population in the country relies on these fuels for daily consumption. 

Firewood is also considered the primary lighting source for 35% of households in the country.

For women in South Sudan, post conflict's multiple hardships crystallised into a daily struggle to find fuel, either by taking the risk of collecting firewood themselves or, increasingly, by paying the high prices at city markets for charcoal and wood. 

After her marriage in late 2021, the fuel cost forced Kide to put her skill for making fuel-efficient stoves into use. Now, she does not just make these stoves for sale; she trains other women to do the same.

How are the stoves made?

Equipped with broken bricks from a nearby construction site, Kide makes mortar out of mud to mould her own stove just outside their room. 

"Building the stove is easy if you keep practising. It's just like building a raised circle or square with one small opening on the side for ventilation", she explained. 

Apart from building the bricks into proper shape and moulding or smearing it with mud, Kide inserts metallic rods closer to the top of the stove for the charcoal to rest on and sieve the burnt ash. 

Getting the metallic rods is the most difficult and expensive part of the building process. 

"For anybody that requires my services, I tell them to first buy the metallic rods; mine is just to use my expertise to build," she said. 

This was how eight women in the neighbourhood ended up in her compound to order her services. Her customers say they love the product.

Nancy Pita, one of her customers, used to use two 50kgs of charcoal every month, but now she uses just one. 

"I was sceptical when I first heard about the efficiency of the stove in our nutrition support groups, but I decided to try it. Fast forward, I am her number one marketer and an advocate of the stoves," Pita said. 

A 2017 FAO and UNHCR survey in Bidi Bidi camp, one of Uganda's biggest refugee camps hosting nearly 300,000 refugees, shows that the stove is efficient. 

The camp used 34,7000 tonnes of fuel wood annually for cooking and heating when they used the traditional three-stone cooking stoves, but the number dropped to 24,3000 when all families used fuel-efficient stoves.

"I charge 5000SSP (about $7) for each double pan stove and 3000SSP for a single pan," Kide said. "Nowadays, I make two daily, and the orders keep coming. I am already saving for my unborn baby without bothering my husband."

But there is the issue of how dangerous the stove can be indoors. 

Aciga Patrick, a medical doctor, said when the stove is used indoors, as is the case for some homes during the rainy season, "with improper ventilation, carbon dioxide gets released after cooking and suffocates the room's occupants." 

Based on this, some people rate Kide's stove as still traditional and needing significant improvement. But Kide said she needs financial incentives and access to funding, which is lacking, to make the necessary improvements. She also called for institutional/government policy supporting the adoption of her cook stove, especially in rural areas.

Despite the challenges, Kide's stove remains a significant improvement from the traditional three-stone fire, and most women here still hunt for her services as most of them in the capital are poor and need energy-conserving stoves.

This story was produced with the support of Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.


South Sudan

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