On February 28, 2012, the US Treasury's Assistant Secretary of International Markets and Development, Ms. Marisa Lago visited a women lead project financed by the GEF Small Grants programme in Rwanda. The project goal was to introduce alternative energy sources to the use of fuel wood and to demonstrate this technology as a potential solution to address climate change and deforestation while improving the livelihoods of the community.
With the support of the Global Environmental Facility's Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development programme (UNDP), the women's cooperative COOCEN (formerly ACEN) started the production of ecological briquettes and suitable cook stoves in Kigali city.
The visit started with welcoming remarks by Ms. Beata Uwimpuhwe, the chair of the women cooperative COOCEN who explained how the project started. In 2002, the association formerly known by ACEN started with the objective of conserving their environment by collecting garbage and generating sustainable livelihoods. Most of 150 members were street workers and some of them were sex workers. Thanks to the European Union they received training on waste recycling and in 2005 with the support of the Canadian Embassy they starting making briquettes but the production was low.
In 2007, the cooperative applied to the GEF Small Grants Programme and received the funds and necessary technical assistance to buy additional machines, improve their production and start a briquettes store. The grant also allowed them to make suitable stoves to be used with the briquettes. Today, over 1000 households, including COOCEN members are using briquettes instead of charcoal. However, most of their client's are tea and brick factories, schools and prisons.
Currently, COOCEN produces around 1,500 tonnes of briquettes per year as an alternative to firewood. Through the introduction of these ecological briquettes the project helps to avoid the burning of 1,200 tonnes of firewood per year or the cutting of at least 9,000 trees which represents around 9ha of forest plantation. Thus, the project has helped avoid 297 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. In addition, through the support of the GEF SGP the association became a cooperative and receives advice from the Kigali City Council.
After seen all the steps involved in briquette making, Mrs. Lago said: "This is remarkable" when she saw a briquette coming out of the machine.
|Ms. Beata with Ms. Lago||Briquette coming out of the machine||Vestine giving her testimonial|
Mrs. Beata added that the GEF SGP remained close to the cooperative after project completion and their support has been very valuable. Vestine Uwimana, a 44 years old woman, member and worker of COOCEN and mother of 5, said: "Thanks to the project I can pay food for my family and school fees. I am paid through a bank account, I can save money and as all my colleagues, I have subscribed to insurance for hazards and a pension scheme."
To which Ms. Lago added: "This is an integrated project. Congratulations!"
The cooperative employs 110 persons, mostly women, who earn at least 50 USD per month. With this amount, they can pay for food, school fees for their children, and medical insurance. This income has improved their quality of life and capacity to provide for their families. The employees have been equipped with gloves, protective masks and boots to protect them from injuries and respiratory diseases while manipulating garbage.
In addition, the 4,000 households where garbage is collected, benefit from improved health and sanitary conditions. In Kigali, garbage collection is indeed mainly done by cooperatives as there is no public institution for that. COOCEN has been awarded by the City Council in 2008 and twice by the Ministry of Labour in 2009 and 2010 for its efforts towards jobs creation and innovation.
At the end of the visit Ms. Beata asked Ms Lago to plant a tree with her at the entrance of the project site compound. The tree was called the GEF tree.
Ms. Lago was accompanied by Mr. Bella Tonkonogy from the Office of Environment and Energy of the U.S. Department of the Treasury; Mr. Brian Frantz from USAID Rwanda and Mr. Christian Shingiro, the Head of Poverty and Environmement of the United Nations Development Programme.