how cleaner ovens help women and birds in west africa

News – 06 December 2021

Due to deforestation in West Africa, the future of Dutch migratory birds and the women in the Sahel is at stake. Vogelbescherming Nederland and Cordaid have joined forces and are working together in the Birds, Bees and Business project on nature restoration and income for women in West Africa. By planting hundreds of thousands of trees, biodiversity is boosted, and there is enough harvest for the women to make shea butter. Neera van der Geest is helping the women in the project invest in cleaner ovens to cut fewer trees.

In the southern part of Burkina Faso, many women depend on the harvesting and processing shea nuts, the raw material of many of our cosmetic products. The shea tree originally belongs in this part of Africa, but the felling of other trees threatens to kill the shea trees.

Planting hundreds of thousands of native acacia trees between the shea and rejuvenating the shea trees creates a richer landscape that can continue to exist sustainably. In addition, landscapes are created that are rich in insects on which millions of birds - including many of 'our' migratory birds - depend. These insects ensure better fertilization of the shea trees, which leads to a richer harvest, which is the source of income for many women in this area.

Part of the project is also the reduction of CO2 emissions during the processing of the nuts. This still often happens on open fires where a lot of wood is burned. By building cleaner ovens, less wood is burned, and therefore fewer trees are felled. Neera van der Geest of FairClimateFund helps with this.


What does FairClimateFund contribute to the Birds, Bees & Business project?

FairClimateFund is part of Cordaid and helps farmers and entrepreneurs in developing countries arm themselves against climate change. FCF plants trees in Peru, finances energy-efficient cooking stoves in India, and helps women in the African shea region discover new cooking ovens within the Birds, Bees & Business project. Our work is funded by selling carbon credits to companies seeking to reduce their carbon footprint. We invest in the projects and sell those carbon credits after demonstrable CO2 reduction has been achieved. In the shea area, we are building small ovens that consume much less wood, which means more trees can remain. And the women who process shea are happy with it.

Why is this an important project for the shea area?

In the Sahel, the shea region of West Africa, large-scale farming has caused many damages. Many trees have been cut down for economies of scale, and the soil has changed. Just like us, by the way. When I studied in Wageningen, the soil was approached as a substrate. But it is so much more than that. Healthy soil is full of life, small animals, fungi and other organic matter. The intensification destroyed much of that life, with all its consequences. Especially in countries in the shea zone, such as Burkina Faso, the loss of soil life was accompanied by erosion. Repairing that damage does not happen by itself. Hence this project, sets all kinds of developments in motion, making the landscape biodiverse, rich in birds and healthy again. The protection of shea trees and shea culture is central to this. This socio-economic approach is the best guarantee for success.

How do your ovens help the local economy?

Wood has become scarce due to all the felling of trees, and collecting it takes a lot of time and energy. Our ovens are a lot more energy efficient than the open fires that are fired for the food and under the shea cooking pots. So far, we have been able to install about 10,000 shea ovens. We helped approximately 3,000 families with this. That means three/four ovens per family because a household usually has several women, each with their kitchen and involvement in producing shea butter. The ovens reduce CO2 in an area that is very sensitive to climate change. They don't cost a lot of money, because they are built locally there. Women who want to participate must first undergo training, in which we also teach them how to maintain and repair the oven. The knowledge is expanding like an oil slick, and more and more women want to participate. The financing of the ovens comes from the seed capital that Birds, Bees & Business received from the Postcode Lottery. The largest part of that money will not go into the ovens, but into the restoration of the landscape.

Does the project have a chance of success?

One thing is certain. The monoculture within agriculture has no future. Not here, but certainly not there. The zone where shea trees still grow and where we help people is still fairly green if you compare it with the area to the north, the Sahel. But, except for the shea, almost all other trees are felled. Desertification threatens. To turn the tide, there needs to be a renewed appreciation for smaller-scale agriculture, agro-forestry, and smaller fields interspersed with pieces of nature. The way it used to be, but with modern techniques. With BB&B, we consciously focus on women; they control shea production and benefit most from this project. But the men are also important to involve. They are the owners of the land. We must therefore include them in this story. Otherwise, it will not work. There is still a lot of work to be done here, and sometimes I lose heart. But then I realize again that we have to hold on. This is the best chance for landscape restoration. Even though the steps sometimes seem small, with every step, we keep moving forward.

This article originally appeared on: Birds, Bees and Business

Share this page