The Power To Heal with Teko Wa

The ways in which we power our Western cities have gone through almost as many changes as the cities themselves.

Up until the late 1800s most of our energy came from wood. The industrial age then crowned coal ruler supreme, before it was overtaken by petroleum and natural gas in the middle of the 20th century.

Why the sudden history lesson? Because rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa are still mirroring the energy patterns we followed two centuries ago. Wood is easy to access and, in areas where it hasn’t been depleted, plentiful. Most importantly though, it’s also cheap.

Although wood is technically a renewable resource it isn’t particularly sustainable. Deforestation is a real issue with very real consequences. From loss of biodiversity to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and disruption of the natural water cycle, it is a big contributing factor to climate change.

In the Western world we were able to speed up our industrialisation process by relying on energy sources that harm the environment. But countries that are just going through those motions now do not have the same luxury, as the planet scrambles to reverse the effects of our past transgressions.

That is where the European Union (EU) funded Teko Wa project in Northern Uganda comes in. It focuses on improving access to energy services in rural areas. But more than that, it is about promoting environmentally sustainable solutions.

Their efforts can be divided into three categories. The first is all about reforestation and sustainable management of bio-energy resources. The second focuses on increased sustainable production and use of energy-efficient cooking technologies among rural communities. And finally, they are also trying to improve access to and use of solar power technology for households and schools.

While this sounds like enough work for three separate projects, this three-pronged approach actually forms the basis of a very sound all-encompassing strategy.

To better understand the process I visited the Ugandan town of Adjumani, eager to learn about Teko Wa’s methods. Here’s how the system works in practice… It begins with providing sustainable energy options that are affordable at the same time. Barefoot Power is a solar energy provider that has helped many families in the region install affordable heating panels and lights in their homes.

For their cooking needs the locals typically use small portable stoves, heated by firewood or coal. Teko Wa have a solution for them too in the form of more energy-efficient models. I got to visit a small warehouse where two talented young men produce them in their free time after work and I was touched by the pride they take in their craft.

The households who have bought these stoves spend much less money on things like firewood and coal. This is because due to their clever design they require much less – what a family used to use in a day can now last them up to a week!

But when it comes to deforestation, the damage that has already been done cannot just be shrugged off. It hasn’t only changed the region aesthetically – it’s also made the land much less hospitable. This is why the Teko Wa project has incorporated tree nurseries into their strategy.

They produce seedlings of anything from fruit bearing trees like apple or mango to local vegetation that has been all but eradicated through reckless felling. The foundation then sells these seedlings to disadvantaged families in the region at exceptionally low rates. This not only improves land’s health, it also provides communities with a source of nutrition and in some cases even a small side income.

The results of the project have been wonderful. Tree cover has improved significantly (1,514 Ha) as have seedling survival rates (71%). Stove production has accelerated (13,880) and 6,371 households have acquired solar lanterns. Households are saving more than ever on wood, charcoal and ketoses thanks to their new energy-efficient stoves.

Through creative innovation, local entrepreneurship and an all-encompassing approach Teko Wa is helping both local communities and the planet at large. It’s the perfect example of change done right.

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