Kenyan Tea Farmers Switch to Renewable Energy

Kenya is the world’s third largest producer and exporter of tea—with more than 3 million Kenyan families depending on tea for their livelihoods. Like most rural households in Kenya, those in tea landscapes rely on charcoal and firewood to heat their homes and power their stoves. Tea factories also use vast quantities of firewood for processing (withering and drying). Needless to say, the massive demand for firewood takes a toll on forests—and the use of solid fuels isn’t good for humans, either. Cooking smoke from solid fuels contributes to 16,600 deaths in Kenya every year, as well as to a range of chronic and acute illnesses that disproportionately affect women and children.

Kenyan tea farmer

That’s why the Rainforest Alliance, with support from the IKEA Foundation, is working with smallholder tea farmers in Kenya to switch to renewable energy. The Rainforest Alliance provides trainings in the use and maintenance of energy-efficient cookstoves to farmers and entrepreneurs and facilitates access to financing to purchase these stoves; seven centers that make no-smoke briquettes out of forestry and agricultural waste provide safe fuel to families, as well as employment opportunities. The initiative will help 50,000 farmers to save money (the briquettes are cheaper to purchase than wood and charcoal), cut carbon emissions, and create healthier homes for families—while preventing the loss of more than 80,000 trees over the length of the project. The use of firewood in tea factories will be reduced by 30 percent, as well.

Six community-based Household Energy Centres (HECs) have already been established thanks to technical assistance provided by the Rainforest Alliance. At these centers, farmers can buy low-cost, safe briquettes that are made on-site from agricultural and forest waste, such as macadamia and rice husks, maize cobs, sawdust, off-cuts, and wood chips; solar lighting products are for sale here, as well. The Rainforest Alliance trains the entrepreneurs who run these centers to manufacture the briquettes; we are also facilitating access to financing so that farmers can buy stoves for homes and entrepreneurs can purchase both stoves and solar lighting wholesale. Not only do the carbonized briquettes produce no smoke, making them a much healthier fuel option, the stoves have 30 percent efficiency—compared to zero efficiency of the stoves traditionally used in rural homes. Furthermore, because the briquettes are compacted waste, they take up less space, reducing transportation and handling costs by approximately 10 times.

Tea field in Kenya

The Rainforest Alliance also identified and trained 20 entrepreneurs to sell cookstoves and solar lighting across the landscape in order to promote renewable energy in places far from HECs. The project has linked 20 entrepreneurs with stove manufacturers to ensure that only high-quality products are purchased; the entrepreneurs buy at wholesale prices, helping to make the enterprises profitable. Through communications materials and outreach to community groups, the Rainforest Alliance is helping to raise awareness about the benefits of using such cookstoves and renewable energy, thereby creating demand among tea farming households.

Because tea factories use so much firewood for processing—estimated at 16000 tonnes of firewood per year—this project also aims to promote use of biomass briquettes for energy at the factory level as well. The Rainforest Alliance facilitated a biomass feasibility study for establishing a central biomass sourcing and briquette production facility (CPF) for tea factories. A CPF will make 11,000 tonnes of briquettes per year for use in 10 factories, displacing 30 percent of firewood use. Part of the CPF’s proceeds will be set aside for community projects, such as scholarships for tea farmer’s children. Currently the Rainforest Alliance is overseeing work with investors to mobilize finance for the CPF, which will also act as a hub to aggregate biomass for the briquette-producing centers in the communities (HECs). All told, the CPF, HECs, and biomass sourcing will create employment for 170 people (at least 30 percent women and youth).

Kenyan tea farmers

This exciting work is part of the IKEA Foundation’s efforts to provide access to renewable energy to rural people in Asia and Africa, and to create new income-earning opportunities in communities that are vulnerable to climate change—as those in Kenya are. “The negative impacts of climate change are threatening the progress many impoverished communities have made,” Jeff Prins, Program Manager for the IKEA Foundation, said. “For these communities, curbing the emissions that lead to climate change and building climate resilience is crucial. This is what we are trying to achieve with our new partnership with the Rainforest Alliance.”

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