A biochar cookstove.

Photograph courtesy ACON

Great Energy Challenge Innovator: African Christians Organization Network

Project: Biochar stoves in western Kenya

Location: Bungoma district of western Kenya

Summary: The African Christians Organization Network (ACON) has been working in Western Kenya since 2000 to empower villagers by providing opportunities for development that are environmentally sustainable. Since 2004, ACON has been focusing their work on how to reduce deforestation while improving soils for local farmers in the area. Part of this solution is improved cook stoves and the use of biochar-a charcoal meant to be added to soils, which can improve soil nutrient retention and water holding capacity as well as sequester carbon.

The Bungoma district of Western Kenya is 30 miles from the Uganda border and near a national forest as well as Lake Victoria. Villagers living in the area are mainly farmers who rely on annual rains for all irrigation making water crucial during the dry season. Families generally use a traditional 3 stone open fire for cooking, requiring a great deal of firewood taken from forests. To alleviate the pressure on the forest, ACON designed a project that worked with local villagers to promote energy conservation and reduce deforestation through the use of improved cooking stoves.

Salim Mayeki Shaban of ACON designed a "clay" stove that reduces fuel wood consumption by 50% and creates less smoke. Salim estimates that from 2004 - 2009, their group built over 10,000 improved stoves. To fund this work, ACON decided to sell the stoves to the villagers for between $12 to $15 US (about 840 to 1050 Kenya shillings). The average amount of fuel wood required on a monthly basis for a Kenyan family of six costs is $20 US, so the stove can pay for itself fairly quickly-based on these costs, ACON marketed the stoves as a money saving device.

As this project took off, ACON brought in experts to design and implement biochar field trials and train local farmers on the application and utilization of biochar. Villagers in the region of Bungoma practice subsistence farming and depend on fertilizers for their crops. They have had recurring serious droughts and Salim wanted to see if using biochar could help with water and nutrient retention in the soil.

The initial improved cook stoves were not biochar‐producing stoves, so the group made biochar by buying wood charcoal from the marketplace, which was then crushed into small pieces.

Since this visit in 2009, ACON has been carrying out community training on the application and utilization of biochar and the importance of biochar in soil. Participants in a training group learn about biochar and set up field trials over the course of four days and then are given biochar to take home with them. Over 750 farmers now have biochar plots in their fields from biochar made in these sessions.

Goal: Promote soil and environmental conservation through application and utilization of biochar practice, organic farming and environmental education.

Related story: "Biochar Cookstoves Boost Health for People and Crops"

Project participants:

  • African Christians Organization Network (Salim Mayeki Shaban, president and founder)
  • Air Terra (Rob Lavoie, chief technical officer)

  • Eventura (Wayne Johnson, president and founder)

  • Move Against Poverty Organization (John Ahana, executive director)

  • Paul Anderson, biochar stove expert

The Great Energy Challenge grant program, in collaboration with a distinguished group of scientists acting as the board of advisors, awards roughly a half-dozen grants per year. The goal of the grant program is to hasten the growth of promising, global energy solutions as a response to climate change, energy resource constraints and environmental limitations.

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