How cleaner ovens help women and birds in West Africa

How cleaner ovens help women and birds in West Africa

News item
06 Dec 2021

Due to deforestation in West Africa, the future of our Dutch migratory birds and the women in the Sahel is at stake. Bird Protection Netherlands and Cordaid have therefore 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 sufficient harvest for the women to make shea butter. Neera van der Geest helps the women in the project invest in cleaner ovens so that fewer trees are cut down.

In the southern part of Burkina Faso, many women depend on the harvesting and processing of shea nuts, the raw material for many of our cosmetic products. These are trees that originally grow in this part of Africa, but due to the felling of other trees, the shea trees themselves are also in danger of dying.

By planting hundreds of thousands of native acacia trees between the shea and rejuvenating the shea trees, a richer landscape is created 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 to reduce 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 cut down. Neera van der Geest from 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 to arm themselves against climate change. FCF plants trees in Peru, finances energy-efficient cooking stoves in India and, within the Birds, Bees & Business project, helps women in the African shea region with new cooking ovens. Our work is financed through the sale of carbon credits to companies that want to reduce their carbon footprint. We invest in the projects and sell those carbon credits after demonstrable CO2 reductions have been achieved. In the shea area we build ovens that use 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 agriculture has caused a lot of damage. Many trees have been cut down to increase 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’s so much more than that. A healthy soil is full of life; small animals, fungi and other organic material. 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, which sets in motion all kinds of developments that will make the landscape biodiverse, bird-rich and healthy again. Protecting shea trees and shea culture is central. This social/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 stoked for food and under the shea cooking pots. So far we have been able to install around 10,000 shea ovens. We helped approximately 3,000 families. This means three/four ovens per family, because a household usually has several women, each with their own kitchen and involvement in the production of shea butter. The ovens reduce CO2 in the area that is very sensitive to climate change. They don’t cost much money because they are built locally there. Women who want to participate must first follow a training course, in which we also teach them how to maintain and repair the oven. Knowledge is spreading like wildfire and more and more women want to participate. The financing of the ovens comes from the starting capital that Birds, Bees & Business received from the Postcode Lottery. The majority of that money does not go into the ovens, but into restoring the landscape.”

Does the project have a chance of success?

“One thing is certain. 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 north of this, the Sahel. But, except for the shea, almost all other trees are cut down. Desertification threatens. To really turn the tide, there must be renewed appreciation for smaller-scale agriculture, agro-forestry and smaller fields interspersed with areas of nature. Basically the way it used to be, but with the use of modern techniques. With BB&B we consciously focus on women; they control the 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 get discouraged. But then I realize again that we have to persevere. This is the best chance for the restoration of the landscape. Even though the steps sometimes seem small, we continue to move forward with every step.”

This article originally appeared on: Birds, Bees and Business