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Cleaning up its act: recycling livestock waste

Mixing charcoal, manure and water to make briquettes
Mixing charcoal, manure and water to make briquettes

As the city of Kisumu in the west of Kenya comes to life, a child in a torn yellow shirt searches through waist-deep piles of plastic and animal dung in the morning breeze. He is looking for food, for fuel that his family can use to cook a meal, and for waste that can be recycled. The boy is joined by others from across the city's six slums, to search the sprawling rubbish dump stretching across an undeveloped piece of land adjacent to a modern supermarket. Like millions of urban slum dwellers, these children are forced to search for materials that they cannot afford to buy. Fuel particularly is expensive for poor households. The waste dumps present a health hazard, but the materials - including the animal manure - can be put to good use and even provide a source of income.

Keeping livestock in the city is illegal in Kenya, but many urban households rely on them for income and security. However, in urban areas there is little land available to absorb the manure, and many slum dwellers are unaware of how to use dung produced by their livestock. A recent study revealed that over 75 per cent of dung produced in the Kisumu slums is not utilised. With no regular waste removal in Kisumu, the piling up of manure also presents a health hazard, contributing to the transfer of zoonotic disease; rain water often washes manure and other waste into the city's water supply.

Adapting to change

Traditionally pastoralist communities dry dung and use it as fuel. While some urban households also use dung, for example as a mosquito repellent, or to support outside walls, the use of dung as fuel had, until recently, not been adapted to meet the needs of urban households. In Kisumu, however, that situation is now changing, thanks to a project managed by a private company, Lagrotech consultants, with support from the DFID-funded Livestock Production Programme. The project has investigated ways to improve the management of organic waste in three slum areas of Kisumu, based on the development of some simple, farmer-friendly technologies that are now turning Kisumu's waste into a convenient, and marketable fuel. With charcoal expensive and in short supply, slum dwellers have welcomed the alternatives.

Six types of waste-based fuel briquettes have been developed and tested, using a variety of raw materials including sun-dried dung, sawdust, charcoal dust, clay and water. Combinations were tested to produce as little smoke as possible and to make the briquettes safe and efficient for home cooking. The briquettes are made by rolling the combined ingredients, with water, into a ball, for home use, or by moulding the mixture into standard cakes to sell, using plastic piping as a mould.

Money matters

In an initial study conducted by Lagrotech, it was revealed that waste produced in Kisumu could potentially earn over £80,000 (US$141,000) each year from waste-based fuel, sold at half the cost of commercial fuel. In tests, the briquettes performed nearly as well as commercial charcoal, and as a result, many families involved in developing and testing the fuel briquettes have switched from commercial charcoal to their own organic mix. The dung and charcoal mix was the most popular, emitting the least smoke and burning at a reasonable speed. Most communities are now actively processing and using the fuel, and some families have created their own small business, generating regular income by selling their surplus briquettes at 10 Kenyan shillings (15 US cents) for 2 kg. 'Contact' farmers have been used on a regular basis to further promote these techniques by engaging other urban farmers in the process of making briquettes both for home use and for entrepreneurial enterprise.

Waste management is a major issue for urban slum areas across Africa. As in Kenya, livestock keeping is usually illegal, but unemployment rates are generally high, and animals provide important income and immediate food security. Enclosed spaces and lack of waste disposal facilities mean that slum dwellers have little choice but to watch waste collect in heaps. Utilising waste as fuel briquettes provides families with valuable fuel and the potential to earn some income. Using research adapted to the needs of slum dwellers, Kisumu is not only cleaning up its waste dumps, but is also saving money. The same could be achieved in other African cities.

Date published: March 2006

 

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