At 21, Linda Sankhulani has taught about 200 women in Lilongwe and Nkhotakota to make biomass briquettes from waste paper for home use and for sale. The Bunda College of Agriculture agri-business graduate, who says she is passionate about mitigating climate change, works with these women on a voluntary basis. She talks to Paida Mpaso about living, not existing, at such a young age.
You train women to make biomass briquettes. Could you outline your role in this project?
I have been doing this since its inception. I helped form the club, facilitate the women and bring in new members. I also deal with the business aspect of the project which involves finding a market through which women can sell their briquettes, developing business plans, forecasting production levels, conducting market research and several others.
How did you get involved?
A friend invited me to help on a research on alternative sources of energy which will in the long run mitigate climate change. We did the research and came up with the biomass briquette idea with the help of the project research coordinator, Dr DD Mkwambisi.
In our research, we wanted to unearth the reasons behind trees being cut down at Bunda Forest.Ã‚Â As you are well aware, one of the causes of climate change is deforestation. A lot of the women we interviewed said they cut down trees as a source of money and for use as firewood. With the help of our supervisor, we came up with the briquettes. We were then using Kumudzi Eco-Learning Centre as our base. At this base, we work with women in the Chalera area.
Are you getting paid to do this?
No, I am volunteering and will continue to do so until we have trained graduate volunteers on this project, probably by June this year. I really want to see this project work. When I started working on this project, I simply wanted to find something to do. After I witnessed how women are being adversely affected by climate change, I wanted to help them out.Ã‚Â I might not have made a major difference in their lives but at least they now know how to make briquettes for home use and for sale. The women I work with no longer risk their lives by going into the forest to collect firewood.
Tell me about Kumudzi Eco-Learning CentreÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
The centre provides several training programmes on agriculture and environmental issues to the public. It teaches people on how to mitigate the effects of climate change. It also teaches them the importance of conserving agriculture and the like. It established Chalera as a cultural village and also promotes sport among rural youth.
What impact has the project made on the lives of women involved?
The project provides easy access to energy sources as firewood is scarce due to deforestation. During the rainy season, firewood becomes difficult to access. Women also make a bit of money off the sales of briquettes, which improves their livelihood. So far, we have reached 200 women in the areas of Chalera and Nkhotakota. These are active women responsible for household cooking.
How sustainable is this project?
I think it is sustainable as long as paper is in supply. Remember, these women use waste paper which is plentiful. The project will also integrate different climate change mitigation programmes such as tree seedlings production and banana production, among others.
Why did you target women?
Women are the most vulnerable in terms of climate change effects. They are responsible for fetching firewood and they easily understand the problems associated with deforestation. The project also seeks to improve livelihoods of women as research indicates that not only are they caregivers, they basically run the whole household.
Explain the briquette-making process to me.
Briquettes are made from waste paper and sawdust or rice husks. However, the raw materials for making briquettes depend on the availability of resources. For example, you can substitute sawdust for rice husks, groundnut shells or maize stalks. We are currently using waste paper and saw dust or rice husks in our project as they are readily available and easy to use.
How is the project mitigating climate change?
Briquettes are environmental friendly in terms of gas emissions. They are used in cooking just as charcoal and firewood. The project is reducing carbon emission as waste paper is no longer burnt. Briquettes also emit less greenhouse gas when burnt. The women we are working with now use briquettes instead of cutting down trees for energy.
Where do you come from?
I hail from Chimkwenzule Village T/A Nsamala in Balaka district, but am living with my parents in Lilongwe. I did my primary education at Mlodza Primary School; from there I was selected to Chipasula Secondary School. I then went for tertiary studies at Bunda College of Agriculture. I was born on May 22, 1990 and I am the second born in a family of five. Of those five, two are boys.
How have your parents reacted to you being a volunteer?
They have advised me on volunteering and have provided resources to enable me to work when faced with inadequacy.
You are still very young and have your whole life ahead of you. What are your plans?
I want to work for a few years and then venture into business. I have learnt, while working on this project, that one can never go wrong with climate change. People are always ready to support such noble ventures. Through this project, I have also become a trainer and lead sessions on briquette making, climate change related issues and research projects.
What do you do when you have some time alone?
I like watching movies, reading Christian literature, listening to gospel music and attending to ministry activities.
Do you have a special someone in your life?
Yes I do. He encourages me to make use of every opportunity even though it may seem small.
What would you advise fellow youths?
I would advise them to take part in development activities and be creative. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s high time youths made positive changes around their communities. Remember, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not always about the money; it is about sharing your knowledge and thinking up creative ideas to bring about change. Let us use what we have to get what we want.
How are fuel briquettes made?
The basic process is simple, although the details vary slightly according to what sort of rubbish is used.
Step 1: Sort out the materials you wish to put into the briquette: Agricultural residues and municipal processing waste
Step 2: Chop the material up and let the agricultural residues stand until partially decomposed
Step 3: Mix the material into a soupy slurry in water
Step 4: Squeeze the slurry inside a porous cylindrical mould to create hollow round cylinders or briquettes
Step 5: Dry the briquettes for a few days before use