In the remote mountain communities of Bamyan Province, Afghanistan a major part of each day is spent collecting fuel wood from the mountains. The fuel wood is used to fire stoves – in order to boil water, to cook food and bake bread, and during the winter to heat the home. Collecting this fuel wood is a time consuming and physically demanding task taking as much as 4 hours each day on steep and difficult terrain, with intensive collecting expeditions before winter sets in.
The collection of woody mountain plants has been unsustainable for some time: the vegetation is severely degraded and many woody plants formerly abundant are now rarely found, despite local communities best efforts to manage this resource in a sustainable way. Fuel wood collection has been recognised by the Government of Afghanistan as a major reason for environmental degradation, and that action is required to reduce pressure on mountain biodiversity.
In reality, little is known about the different types of fuel used in Afghanistan, and which plants are collected and in what quantity. However, what is certain is that a number of locally sourced and produced alternatives exist that could reduce the dependence on wild collected plants as fuel. Such a reduction would not only benefit the wider environment and allow it to regenerate over time, but it would also reduce the amount of time and effort required by local communities in collecting the fuel from the mountain slopes.
Three different alternative fuel solutions in five valleys in Bamyan Province are being tested as part of this Darwin Initiative project:
These were designed and are produced locally, and tests have shown that they require up to 60% less fuel than traditional cooking facilities, potentially reducing degradation and the time required to collect fuel from the mountains.
Solar Water Heaters
Heating water for making tea and for washing constitutes a significant part of fuel use every day. These simple solar water heaters concentrate solar energy to heat water in kettles without the requirement for any fuel. Although this benefit is limited to daylight hours and is less efficient during winter, it still gives good results for large periods of each year.
While wild collected fuel wood is used extensively in cook stoves, other fuels are also used. One of the main ones is animal dung. The bio-briquette machines allow this to be mixed with other materials and compacted into cleaner burning bricks.
The effects of these fuel interventions will be monitored in terms of benefits to community and household lives, and in terms of a reduction in environmental degradation.