A Better Life for Jacinta in Hombe Village

More than three billion people worldwide depend on toxic open fires or inefficient cooking methods for their daily cooking needs, exposing poor communities to respiratory diseases and reducing their life expectancy. According to the World Health Organization, this practice of traditional cooking methods is equivalent to smoking “20 packets of cigarettes daily” and has deadly consequences. In Africa alone, indoor pollution from such practices causes 600,000 deaths annually, which is half the size of the city of Kigali.

Rural woman coughing from smoke produced by three stone cooking method

Rural woman coughing from smoke produced by three stone cooking method

Hombe village, an agricultural Eden located at the foot of the Mount Kenya Forest Reserve in Nyeri County, is one such place where the majority of women have been using inefficient cooking methods for years. Jecinta has lived in the village since she was a child. This is her home. It was only a few months ago that she used to go to the forest 3 times per week, and spend about 3 hours during every visit. Since men are not allowed into the forest (as a deterrent to poaching), collecting firewood is solely a woman’s responsibility, a practice that has far-reaching economic consequences, with $0.8 trillion tied to the aftermath of these practices.

Women collecting firewood in Hombe Forest

Women collecting firewood in Hombe Forest

Encounters in Hombe Forest: Women’s Tales of Wildlife Adventures

Due to the small size of Hombe Forest and its proximity to human settlements, encounters with wild animals are bound to occur. Over many years of collecting firewood in the forest, the women of Hombe have accumulated an archive of memories of these encounters with wildlife. They often recount these encounters which evoke a dual  sense of excitement and fear.

The frequency of these encounters vary depending on the prevailing weather. On one visit into the forest, Jecinta Njoki Wanjira and her neighbors spotted an elephant at a very close distance.

She recalls,“We were terrified, and we fled, losing our pangas and ropes in the process. One of us fell as she ran, but the elephant had stopped chasing us and she was not harmed.” 

Elephants roaming a forest

Elephants roaming a forest

The onset of rains, as beneficial as it is for the farmers, serves to encourage the elephants to move downhill, closer to the settlements. Unfortunately, the electric wire fences surrounding the Hombe forest are not always on, and the elephants are somehow able to “perceive” this. Proximity to the forest only exacerbates the dangers, as the elephant “maternity wing” is located on the edge of Hombe Forest, separated only by a dirt road to the homesteads on the other side.

DGB – Akili’s Hongera Project – A Cookstove Project 

The Hongera Project, launched in 2021, offers a solution to the pain point facing women across Mt. Kenya and Aberdares region who are affected in a multiplicity of ways by the three stone method of cooking.  The Hongera Project, supported by Dutch Green Business and implemented by Akili Group will support the distribution of 150,000 energy efficient cookstoves to rural families in Mt. Kenya and Aberdare regions and mitigate more than 1.7 million tons of CO2 through the project’s lifetime. In this, we see that it plays a crucial role in climate change mitigation, ecosystem restoration and community empowerment.

One year into the project, this initiative has significantly improved the lives of many women in Hombe. As expected, there have been many reported cases of respiratory complications among school-going children in Hombe village over the years. A high thermal efficient cooking stove has done it. In the words of Jecinta,

“After receiving the Hongera Cookstove, I am now a relaxed woman. My health and that of my family has improved since less smoke is emitted. I also have more time to attend to my cows, cultivate my land, and spend time with my children.”

 

A Group-Centered Approach 

Jecinta is a one among 2,000 other members of Hombe Community Forest Association (CFA ) which was Established in 2005 and registered in 2008 at the Office of the Attorney General . The group is actively involved in the conservation, rehabilitation, protection, and sustainable utilization of the resources in the forest, and runs a tree seedlings nursery as part of their initiatives. 

Rural women potting tree seedlings in Home Nursery, Hombe Region

From your right, Lydia Wangechi Murage, Agnes Kinyua, Charity Gaithigia and Loise Ndegwa potting tree seedlings in Hombe Nursery, Hombe Region

Under the umbrella of Hombe CFA, there exist many sub-groups including Upendo Women’s Group, of which Jecinta and her neighbors are members. Wherever it implements programmes, Akili works through groups such as these with the aim of achieving long-term impact and holistic transformation. 

Community groups are powerful engines for transformation in communities. They also display tremendous social benefits. For instance, on just one rainy weekend, the women of Upendo Women’s Group collected firewood together in the forest, gathered to save money, and came together to cook for a friend’s weekend. They have learned to rely on one another to face challenges and celebrate life’s joys.  

“As a member of Upendo Women Self Help Group, I have been able to be part of Hongera Project and I have benefited from training, cookstoves and expecting much more.” says Jecinta.

The group-based model of community development and uptake of new technologies has helped Akili Group in covering larger and deeper problems. Furthermore, it has widely been confirmed that working with community organizations is more effective than individual households.

Impact Results of the Hongera Project 

One year into the project, the impact of the stove is already being felt: 

“The Hongera cookstove is a game changer. It’s impacting  time spent by women collecting firewood. Most women in our target areas have small kitchen houses outside the main house which are greatly affected by smoke using the old cook stoves. The Hongera Cookstove has significantly  reduced the Indoor Air Pollution, resulting in improved health for many families. Additionally, those who were buying firewood are saving quite a lot. It is also giving them a sense of pride; showing that they have a new cooking system which is climate friendly” – Kassim Abednego, Hongera Project Manager.

As an Akili Community and through the Hongera Project, Hombe community has also benefited from several other initiatives, including:

  1. Trees for Planting: The community has received trees for planting in community schools and homesteads, contributing to reforestation efforts and sustainable resource management.
  2. Community Health Initiatives through Banda Health: The community clinic in the area was installed with Banda Go Software, and two ambassadors were recruited as Community Health workers to support the community. Women in the Hombe group were trained on the importance of cervical cancer testing and have become quick adopters of this good practice.
  3. Nursery Contract for Seedling Production: Hombe nursery has been contracted to grow seedlings as part of the Hongera project, which are then distributed to farmer groups and academic institutions. This has not only contributed to improved incomes for the members and their dependents, but also provided training on proper nursery management to produce healthy and viable tree seedlings, ensuring a sustainable income stream.

    Rural women watering tree seedlings in a nursery

    From your right, Lydia Wangechi Murage and Agnes Kinyua, hard at work, tending to their tree seedlings in Hombe Nursery

  4. Yam Production Demonstration Farm: The group has established a yam production demonstration farm on one of their member farms, which is aiding farmers in learning improved production methods for yam cultivation, promoting sustainable and efficient farming practices.

The Hombe Group is one of more than 300 groups so far, who are enjoying improved health, increased income and better farming practices as registered members of the project. Collectively, they are a powerful force in the fight against climate change and the overall well being of our planet.