It is not uncommon to meet groups of people carrying bundles of firewood to Kabarore or Karangazi townships in Gatsibo and Nyagatare districts, respectively, from as early as 5:30am.
The numbers of these people can be compared to the hordes of people that can be spotted bearing sheaves to their homes during seasons of wheat or sorghum harvest.
Buyers, on the other hand, also wait along the roads to get cheaper firewood from the “producers” themselves.
Those not lucky to purchase the wood or charcoal from the locals have to part with more money to get supplies from retailers.
Presently, in Gatsibo and Nyagatare, firewood and charcoal are ridiculously expensive. For instance, one would need a bundle of firewood, worth Rwf500, to cook a kilogramme of beans.
A bicycle-load worth of firewood goes for over Rwf5,000.
Joshua Mahoro, from Kabarore in Gatsibo, says prices of charcoal are also high.
A sack of charcoal costs between Rwf10,000 and Rwf12,000 in Nyagatare.
Mahoro says a bag of charcoal lasts just a month for his bachelor household of two people (he lives with his brother).
With these high prices, people have been improvising various approaches such as charcoal stoves in a bid to cope.
But, as it turns out, these options have not been of much help, the reason MKAJE School of Tourism and Hospitality in Nyagatare town has opted for gas fuel.
The principal, Agnes Uwera, says gas is clean energy, more efficient, and saves time and money in the long run.
She explains that a gas cooker kit comprising a 12-kilogramme cylinder, tube, regulators and three cookers costs Rwf100,000.
“The school uses it for students’ cooking lessons and to make meals for the staff and to prepare all the meals for the three teachers that reside at school. The cylinder is refilled once a month, at Rwf17,000 only,” says Uwera.
This implies that refilling the cylinder for a year costs Rwf204,000, which is way cheaper than using charcoal or firewood, according to Uwera.
“With charcoal, we would use about four bags a month, translating to Rwf40,000 per month and Rwf480,000 in a year,” she says.
Unfortunately, not many residents know about or have access to gas cookers.
Mahoro, from Kabarore, admitted complete ignorance about gas fuel technology.
“I hear some people talking about gas, but they also say it is very expensive for low income earners like myself,” he says.
However, a household like Mahoro’s would sufficiently be served by a 6-kilogramme gas cylinder that costs Rwf45,000. They would spend Rwf8,500 to refill it every two months, which, in a year, adds up to Rwf50,000, instead of Rwf120,000 needed for charcoal.
Sadly, the high cost of charcoal and firewood also comes with health hazards due to the pollution caused by the smoke.
Cycle of ignorance?
However, despite all these costs, households like Mahoro’s and bigger families continue to rely on charcoal and firewood. Why?
The answer is largely because most people are ignorant about gas. The few with information do not have the money to buy the full kit. Even for those that have the information and the money, a handful can access gas cylinders, especially in the Eastern Province.
This cycle brings all these people to the traditional use of firewood and charcoal.
Emmanuel Ndagijimana, who owns a gas company in Kigali, says he is currently supplying gas to Kigali and Huye in the Southern Province.
He explains that his gas company allows installment payments, but the company has not reached most places of the country.
“We work with districts and banks to receive installment payments from our customers,” Ndagijimana says.
However, much as district leaders in Eastern Province are willing to work with dealers in gas, they (gas companies) are hard to come-by.
Nyagatare mayor Emmanuel Mupenzi and his Gatsibo counterpart Richard Gasana say they have not come across a gas company or supplier coming to partner with them.
“It is in our performance contracts (imihigo) that we should mobilise more people to use gas, but there are no gas suppliers to partner with,” says Mupenzi.
As Nyagatare and Gatsibo strive to find a solution to their fuel demands, one may entirely say that clean cooking energy is only scarce but there is much willingness to adopt its use by the Rwandan population.
And, until this scarcity is overcome, thousands of trees will be cut every day to cater for fuel needs of the population, which poses a threat to the present and future generations.
IMPACT OF TREAD ON FORESTS IN THE AREA
Nyagatare District forestry officer Samuel Murenzi says he is worried the Akagera Belt and Muvumba natural forest in Nyagatare and Karangazi sectors risk being wiped clean.
“Local leaders say they made it a daily routine to sensitise residents against cutting trees and encourage the use of more energy saving stoves but it seems the rate at which trees are cut is higher than that at which they are planted. We need alternative energy to turn us from looking at trees as a source of fuel,” he said.
In some other places like Munini Forest in Rwimbogo Sector in Gatsibo District, local leaders say, besides the frequent advice to residents, they employed volunteers to monitor forests even when the trees are not mature enough for cutting.
“The village and cell committees for the protection of forests have always mobilised people to avoid illegal cutting of trees and encouraged growing more. We have 240 hactares of trees, most of which are young, but still people have been arrested sneaking in to cut them,” said James Musoni, the executive secretary of Munini Cell.
Paul Rusagara, the internship programme officer at Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), who is responsible for coordinating the REMA interns who help districts incorporate environment conservation into their development programmes and performance contracts, said there is high pressure of the population rushing to get cooking energy from forests countrywide.
“The government adopted several measures to conserve forests and have more trees planted, including reducing taxes on gas so that lower prices can divert the pressure on wood energy to using gas,” he said.
The country’s clean energy policy was launched in 2009.