- Title: Turning a water-borne menace into "green gold" in Senegal
- Date: 1st January 2020
- Summary: This winner was about an invasive plant that has destroyed crops in Senegal and Mauritania is now being used to produce clean energy, but the country needs to go further to extract the full potential of Typha which could become the building block of a green future, saving trees and cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions. ON THE BORDER BETWEEN SENEGAL AND MAURITANIA (FILE) (REUTERS) AERIAL VIEW OF RIVER SENEGAL RIVER SENEGAL WITH TYPHA AN AQUATIC AND INVASIVE PLANT GROWING ON THE RIVERBANK TYPHA GROWING IN THE WATER MEN CUTTING THE TYPHA MORE OF MEN CUTTING THE TYPHA (SOUNDBITE) (Wolof) DJIBI NDIAGNE, TYPHA CUTTER, SAYING: "On the one hand, it's good (cutting Typha) because it gives me work so I can feed my family. But on the other hand, there are consequences because Typha is taking over a lot of space. We used to grow rice in this part and now, because of Typha itâ€™s impossible." NDIAGNE CARRYING LOAD OF TYPHA LOAD OF TYPHA LAID ON WATER RONKH, SENEGAL (FILE) (REUTERS) DRIED TYPHA ON THE GROUND / FENCE MADE OUT OF DRIED TYPHA MAN MAKING THE FENCE WITH TYPHA DETAIL ON MAKING OF THE FENCE HOUSE WITH A TYPHA ROOFTOP TYPHA ON THE ROOF VILLAGE SCENE WOMAN AND CHILD WALKING IN THE VILLAGE DRY GROUND AROUND THE VILLAGE MAN ON A HORSE CROSSING THE DRY LAND AROUND VILLAGE CRACKED EARTH FROM DESERTIFICATION WOMEN PUTTING DRIED TYPHA IN LARGE CONTAINER TO BURN / CARBONISE IT WOMAN PUTTING THE TYPHA IN THE OVEN MORE OF WOMEN PUTTING TYPHA IN THE OVEN WOMEN COVERING THE OVEN WOMEN AROUND THE OVEN WOMAN LIGHTING TYPHA TO START THE OVEN WOMAN WITH FACE MASK FLAMES SMOKE BILLOWING OUT OF OVEN WHERE THE TYPHA IS BEING BURNED WOMEN OPENING UP THE OVEN AFTER IT HAS BURNED THE TYPHA (SOUNDBITE) (French) YACINE SEYE, TYPHA BRIQUETTE MAKER, SAYING: "That is carbonised Typha. We have carbonised it and obtained the material we needed. There are no ashes, there are no losses. That is what we wanted to achieve and we got it" SEYE'S HANDS WITH THE CHARRED TYPHA TYPHA BEING MIXED WITH GUM ARABICA AND WATER TO MAKE THE BIOFUEL SWITCH FOR BRIQUETTE-MAKING MACHINE MACHINE'S ENGINE TURNING YACINE PUTTING CHARRED TYPHA IN THE MACHINE YACINE WORKING WITH A FACE MASK PEOPLE AROUND THE MACHINE BRIQUETTES COMING OUT OF THE MACHINE WOMEN CARRYING GRILL TO LAY OUT THE BRIQUETTES TO DRY TYPHA BRIQUETTES DRYING MORE OF THE BRIQUETTES DRYING YACINE WITH THE TYPHA BRIQUETTES YACINE SHOWING THE BRIQUETTES (SOUNDBITE) (French) YACINE SEYE, TYPHA BRIQUETTE MAKER, SAYING: (What does it bring you?) A lot of joy, before getting this job, women were just at home. We went to the fields one month for a few days and we would do nothing else. Now with the transformation of Typha into biocoal we can support our husbands in our homes, educate children and even cook. We can do everything with this." BIOCOAL IN COOKER IN THE HOUSE YACINE AND HER FAMILY MAKING TEA TEA POT HEATING UP ON BIOCOAL NGUEKOH, SENEGAL (FILE) (REUTERS) ERNEST DIONE, COORDINATOR FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN CONSTRUCTION, PART OF THE MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT, WALKING ON SITE OF CONSTRUCTION COMPANY 'ELEMENTERRE' THAT USES TYPHA IN CONSTRUCTION DIONNE WALKING PAST PILE OF DRIED TYPHA WORKER MIXING TYPHA TO MAKE BRICKS DIONE LOOKING AT THE WORKMAN TYPHA BRICK MIX TYPHA GOING INTO A MIX TO PRODUCE ACOUSTIC INSULATING BRICKS WORKER MIX DIONE LOOKING WORKMAN PACKING THE MATERIAL WITH HIS FEET NEW INSULATING BRICK BRICKS MADE FROM TYPHA ON THE GROUND TYPHA PACKED TIGHTLY TOGETHER BUILDING BRICKS MADE OUT OF TYPHA (SOUNDBITE) (French) ERNEST DIONE, COORDINATOR FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN CONSTRUCTION, MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT, SAYING: "Indeed, if you look at history, Typha was considered - until recently - as a nuisance because it stopped the development of irrigated agriculture, and the development of many economic activities. But, more and more, with what we have discovered in terms of the potential, today we are starting to look at Typha differently and to consider it as a resource. In Senegal we are just beginning, but we have proved that we can do a lot with Typha." DIAMNIADIO, SENEGAL (FILE) (REUTERS) ECO-PAVILION SHOWROOM MADE WITH TYPHA AND OTHER MATERIALS TO CONTROL THE TEMPERATURE DETAIL ON THE TYPHA BRICK EXTERIOR OF ECO-PAVILLION INTERIOR OF ECO PAVILLION, CEILING LINED WITH TYPHA TYPHA ON THE CEILING ON BORDER BETWEEN SENEGAL AND MAURITANIA (FILE) (REUTERS) TYPHA BY THE RIVER SUN SETTING OVER TYPHA
- Embargoed: 15th January 2020 13:01
- Keywords: Green fuel Senegal river Typha bio fuel greenhouse gas emmissions invasive aquatic plant
- Location: RIVER SENEGAL, RONKH, NGUEKOH AND DIAMNIADIO, SENEGAL
- City: RIVER SENEGAL, RONKH, NGUEKOH AND DIAMNIADIO, SENEGAL
- Country: Senegal
- Topics: Environment,Climate Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA001BUCCY8N
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:The majestic Senegal River is a natural frontier with Mauritania. The banks are a crucial source of rice and other primary crops. The river provides fish for the rural population living along its shores. Mauritania, where the arid desert of the Sahel region begins, has one of the poorest agricultural bases in West Africa. The narrow band along the river provides the country's only farm land.
To capitalise on the land and reduce the salt level rising in the fresh river water that threatened the crops both Senegal and Mauritania's governments agreed to build the Diama Dam in the estuary. It was completed 1986 and also created a vital trade road link between the two countries. Another dam, the Manantali, was built further downstream in Mali to create a water reservoir.
But this ambitious move - intended to safeguard and expand two nations' agriculture - created a monster with devastating effect: Typha Australis, a fast-growing invasive reed. Though Typha is native to the region, the two dams that cut off the seasonal flow of salt and fresh water in the river, provided the perfect conditions for it to grow and spread faster than ever before. It choked off the land and irrigation systems, destroying crops and pushing back fishing zones. Stagnant waters also led to increased diseases.
Today 45 percent of the Senegal river delta's arable land has been taken over by Typha which has to be regularly cut down to stop it spreading further, but never receding because of its lightning speed growth rate.
Both government have spent 30 years trying to eradicate Typha in vain.
It wasn't until 2011 that the international NGO Gret (Technical Research and Exchange Group) found a solution: turn it into biofuel.
For the local community who had lost hope the new biofuel is a godsend.
"On the one hand its good (cutting Typha) because it gives me work so I can feed my family. But on the other hand, there are consequences because Typha is taking over a lot of space. We used to grow rice in this part and now, because of Typha its impossible," says 53-year old Typha cutter and farmer, Djibi Ndiagne now working in the biofuel production in Ronkh, an 8,000-strong village.
But it is also a major leap in finding cleaner energy than firewood and combating greenhouse gas emissions.
With funding from the European Union and Apaus (Agency for the promotion of universal access to services), Gret brought in equipment for the local community to dry and carbonise Typha. They also trained a collective of women to produce the biofuel by mixing the charred reeds with gum arabica and drying them into briquettes.
"Before doing this job, women were at home. We went to the fields one month for a few days and we would do nothing else. Now with the transformation of Typha into biocoal we can support our husbands in our homes, educate children and even cook. We do everything with this," said Yacine Seye, from the biofuel cooperative.
Typha biofuel is cheap at 125 CFA (0.21 USD) per kg, produces little smoke and burns a long time with a reasonable calorific value. And you need just 1700 square metres of Typha to produce one tonne of biocoal.
Another advantage of the Typha biofuel is that it saves trees. Cutting trees for fuel has had devastating effects on the environment. Gret says Senegal uses 1.5 million cubic metres of wood a year and has lost 675,000 hectares of forest between 1990 and 2005. Mauritania uses 6 million cubic metres. Gret describes the deforestation as "massive".
Given its huge potential Typha was upgraded from a being a calamity to the new 'green gold'.
But in the four years since they began producing the biofuel using artisanal methods, the business hasn't grown much. Most of the people who benefit are the local communities along the river banks with only a few sales in the nearby city of Saint Louis.
The financing to get the project off the ground has dried up. So a new consortium of partners including Gret who oversaw the first project, together with Senegal's Ministry of Environment, the Green Climate Fund, the French Fund for World Environment (FFEM) amongst others have set up project TyCCAO (Typha Combustible Construction West Africa). It is tasked with diversifying the use of Typha as a biofuel and commercialising it on a larger scale.
For example Gret plans to set up a semi-industrial production unit in Mauritania to sell larger quantities of green fuel for the 730 million people in the region who currently use wood for energy. TyCCAO say 70 percent of the population in the region and 85 percent in rural areas are off the power grid.
They also want to apply it to construction. Up to 75 percent of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Africa come from activities linked to buildings which are not well adapted to the Sahelien and tropical climates.
One Company, Elementerre, has been using Typha for three years to make thermal and acoustic isolators for construction.
Based in Nguekoh, near Mbour, Elementerre mixes the dried Typha with rice balls and clay to build energy efficient homes. Demand is not high but it is growing the company said.
The Typha-combo replaces the polystyrene they used in the past and is usually combined with bricks to provide the optimum isolation.
Senegal's Ministry of Environment has tasked Ernest Dione to coordinate energy efficiency in construction.
He says the process may be slow but is confident Typha is a fundamental key to fighting climate change in the future.
Dione had a model building constructed in the new city of Diamniadio, near Dakar, to lure investors. He says Typha grows on 80,000 ha of Senegal's left bank of the river and 50,000 on the Mauritanian side. The reed also grows in the canals, irrigation ducts and on the nearby Lake Guiers. He estimates there are 3 million hectares of Typha waiting to be exploited and turned into fuel and building material.
Gret says in Asia the hearts of the young shoots are gastronomic delicacies and it can also make a good tea.
The group says "Typha's potential for energy is fantastic, but it is only one stage", Senegal and Mauritania need to think big to develop the full potential of the invasive reed to build a greener and more profitable future.
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