MOGADISHU, Somalia – Battered by the worst drought in decades, students in Somalia have discovered an alternative to charcoal – corncob briquette, a find which could help stem the country’s tide of deforestation.
Students at the Somali National University have worked on an experimental project for three months to prepare corncob as a substitute for coal in the Horn of the African country.
“Very excited to complete successfully the first experimental research on the corncob as an alternative to charcoal. This is a scientific breakthrough that comes in a time while we are facing great deforestation,” said Abdifatah Hared, the research supervisor.
Hared, who touted the research as the first of its kind in Somalia, said the corncob is free, durable, and eco-friendly for use in producing fuel.
“Five corncob briquettes cooked one liter of tea for us in just 32 minutes and burned three hours. We want to educate people in rural areas to use corncob and stop cutting trees,” he told Anadolu Agency during an interview in the capital Mogadishu.
The students, who worked tirelessly to find out that corncob is a useful alternative to charcoal, described the work as “very helpful,” calling it an inexpensive finding.
“We have worked hard for days and weeks. It was the happiest moment in my life to discover this because it can stop tree cutting that has been a huge problem for our country,” Ifrah Nour, a research team member, told Anadolu Agency.
‘Huge, important’ discovery for Somalia
The main purpose of the study, according to researchers, was to find out a method that could help stop the country’s deforestation.
“This is huge and important. We are cutting trees every day. A study conducted in Somalia between 2012 and 2017 showed that a tree was cut down every second and eight million trees were cut down in that period of time, which is devastating and catastrophic for the Somali environment,” Hared said.
Anwar Abdifatah Bashir, executive director of Somali Environmental Justice Organization, a non-profit organization that focuses on the environment and natural resources, lauded the study as a “timely” discovery, citing the recurrent droughts in Somalia.
Some of the causes of the protracted famine and droughts in the country are deforestation and charcoal trade said, the lecturer at the Somali National University.
“As such, exploring an alternative for the charcoal is highly needed. It reduces the environmental degradation and empowers local capacity,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Charcoal trading ‘for survival’
An average family in Somalia uses 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of wood charcoal per month that costs every household $30.
With the country facing a severe drought, over 7 million people need humanitarian assistance and cannot afford to buy charcoal or cooking gas as they rely on international community aid.
Charcoal trade is illegal in Somalia, but people and its traders shrug off it since the country lacks a strong, centralized administration.
It is also the primary source of income for al-Shabaab, a Somali-based al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group that has been fighting against the Somali government and African Union peacekeeping mission forces in Somalia since 2007, according to the UN.
Asked by Anadolu Agency about the discovery, Maryan Ahmed, a charcoal trader in Mogadishu, was laughing sarcastically while questioning what she called a step forward: “Is it just an idea or something that is going to work anytime soon, that is what I thought when I heard about the corncob charcoal.”
She was trying to justify her job while assuming the responsibility for deforestation.
“What should I do when I have five children behind me who need feeding.
“We are doing this for survival, not by pleasure.”
The Somali Directorate of Environment and Climate Change also has stepped up efforts to halt deforestation in the country.
It subsidized 1,000 cylinders of liquefied petroleum gas in Mogadishu to reduce charcoal consumption.
“The liquefied petroleum gas cylinders are subsidized 60% by PROSCAL. Some 4,400 cylinders with stoves have been handed over to federal member states for the last two years. Providing affordable and sustainable cooking gas can halt deforestation in Somalia,” it said in a tweet.
PROSCAL is a joint project of Somalia and the UN which seeks international cooperation to stop the illegal export of charcoal from Somalia.
Charcoal has become the country’s only source of domestic energy as both rural and urban communities depend on it for all their fuel needs.
According to Environmental Justice Atlas, which documents social conflicts about environmental issues worldwide, Somalia is mostly a desert territory and the arable land it has is 2%, making it naturally already prone to drought.
Over the past 20 years, the droughts have been further exacerbated by mass deforestation. The country is now witnessing one of the worst droughts in decades that has already claimed 13 people, mostly children, and thousands of livestock worth of millions of US dollars.