Afghan bio-briquettes conserve energy

In a remote mountain village in northeastern Afghanistan Mission East is teaching local women to make biological fuel by using cheap and available natural resources.

By Kim Wiesener and Line Højland, Communications Officers

Place some weeds and leaves in a 90 centimetres deep pit. Burn them carefully, take the semi-burned items out of the pit, mix them with soil and some water and shape them into round briquettes using a metal form.

In several Afghan households, such bio-briquettes have replaced firewood as the preferred form of fuel, thanks to a Mission East project in a remote village in Badakhshan. Ten villagers have been selected to produce environmentally friendly fuel from material that would otherwise have been disposed of.

One of them is Anisha, a 52-year old mother of seven, who used to collect firewood from a nearby forest. To use trees for firewood harms the area’s environment. When the trees are cut down and bushes removed, it affects soil quality to such an extent that the risk of landslides and floods is increased.

To minimize this risk, Anisha has become a driving force in a project that is not only environmentally friendly, but makes life easier for the villagers. Together with a group of other women, she has been trained to make bio-briquettes. She will pass her skills on to her neighbours in the village.

Her village is located in Badakhshan province close to the border with Tajikistan. It is about as far away as one can get in Afghanistan, and the remote area is plagued by armed opposition groups and criminal gangs. The population has to cope with malnutrition and dirty drinking water that causes serious stomach ailments. Most of the village’s 306 households make a living from agriculture and breeding livestock. A small school and a clinic are the only modern facilities in the village.

Spent hours finding firewood

When you are used to central heating and several power sockets at home, it can be difficult to grasp how vital it is for the villagers to have a stable supply of firewood. But Anisa and her neighbours depend on firewood for everything, including cooking and heating up their small homes during the long and snowy winters. “I used to put pressure on my husband and oldest kids to go to the mountains and get firewood from trees and bushes,” a female participant in the project said. “I did not know that it could be dangerous for me and the local community to remove vegetation.”

In former times, the families could spend hours roaming the mountains to find useable firewood. Sometimes, the children had to stay away from school because they had to collect firewood for their families, and it could be dangerous to wander around the remote mountains. Instead, the women can now be united in producing the briquettes. Fatima, a local Mission East employee, explained that the briquettes are so popular because the material is available everywhere, and everyone can collect it.

Depending on natural resources

In an age when the pressure on the earth’s resources has never been greater, projects like this one are the future. The Mission East programme manager for Afghanistan, Joohi Haleem, explains:

“Natural resources – and their use and their use and management - play a crucial role in the lives and livelihoods of the remote mountain communities of Mission East’s programme intervention areas in north-eastern Afghanistan. In the absence of regular and reliable sources of employment, the target communities depend heavily on these valuable resources (watersheds, forests, rangelands etc.) as an alternative means of livelihoods. Introducing and promoting the use of renewable energy sources such as bio-briquettes helps to reduce community dependence on increasingly scarce traditional sources of fuel such as firewood.”  

She adds that the project is particularly beneficial to women: “The process helps to recognize and enhance the role of women in addressing their household needs and simultaneously, to use and manage the natural resource base more sustainably.”


Towards a more sustainable future

  • The project trains 10-15 women in the production of bio-briquettes so that they can pass their skills on to other families in the village.
  • The bio-briquettes form part of a larger project that trains the area’s villagers in rainwater management and the collection of solar energy.