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Rainforest Alliance’s project helping Kenyan tea farmers switching to renewable energy

The Rainforest Alliance has set up a project to develop safe and accessible renewable energy sources to conserve Kenyan forests and ensure healthier smoke-free homes

The solution was the local manufacture of carbonised briquettes made from farm waste materials (eg sawdust and corn husks, sugarcane bagasse, macadamia shells and coffee husks) supplied to homes and tea processors.  The project has already enabled thousands of Kenyan households to switch to cleaner, safer and more affordable cooking.

By partnering with Kenya Tea Development Association (KTDA), the project has established tree nurseries in 12 factories aiming to have over 1,000,000 trees within a year. The project targets to grow more than 1,000,000 trees in the tea landscape over a period of one year. Since the programme started over 13,000 households who have switched to briquettes, solar energy and use of efficient cook stoves.

“As we countdown to World Rainforest Day on 22 June, a recent report from Global Forest Watch confirms that an area the size of football pitch of tropical rainforest is lost every six seconds based on 2019 satellite data. Kakamega Forest in Kenya is its only tropical rainforest and is said to be the last remnant of the ancient Guineo-Congolian rainforest that once spanned the continent. For decades, the forest has been shrinking due primarily to poverty-driven logging, harvesting of medicinal resources, and agricultural expansion,” stated Rainforest Alliance.

The tea industry, Kenya's biggest employer, is a heavy consumer of firewood - estimated at 29,000 cu/m per year. However, Kenya currently only has enough wood to meet only 70 per cent of this demand through sustainable domestic supply.  This shortage is putting terrible pressure on Kenya’s forests and has led to a national deforestation crisis which has also contributed to massive water shortages across the country. In fact, this situation has also been happening in many other countries globally where this sort of solution could be introduced.

The Rainforest Alliance’s recognised the issues facing Kenya a number of years ago and established a ground presence in Kenya’s tea sector.  One of the aims of this project has also been to reduce the use of firewood in tea factories. As a result it was uniquely positioned to help realise a shift from firewood to smoke-free briquettes made from farm waste such as sawdust and corn husks, sugarcane bagasse, macadamia shells and coffee husks.

This Kenyan Renewable Energy Project could be replicated in other tea growing landscapes globally to provide the essential infrastructure that supports life on Earth and human development. The project hopes it can continue to catalyse a renewable energy transformation in Kenyan tea-producing regions to stop deforestation, create sustainable, long-term employment for energy entrepreneurs, and improve health outcomes as well as jobs in tea farming communities.