MBILE, Cameroon, June 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Seated on a kitchen chair, Adisa Issa, a 50-year-old refugee from Central African Republic (CAR), is cooking soup, her pot balanced on a clay stove fuelled by small briquettes.
It’s a change to the open wood fire she normally uses, a change that is helping to ease tensions between refugees and locals over increasingly scarce wood in Mbile village in eastern Cameroon.
Mbile’s population of 5,000 swelled to nearly 16,500 between 2012 and 2014, as thousands of refugees fleeing violence in CAR found shelter in the village and its refugee camp, said Halpha Emmanuel, prefect of Kadey department in east Cameroon.
The country hosts nearly 370,000 refugees, 274,000 of them from CAR where conflict spiralled in 2013, driven by ethnic and religious grievances and vying over vast diamond resources.
Issa was forced to flee for her life when an armed group broke into her home while she was sleeping, and killed several of her relatives.
“Three years ago when I arrived here, we found wood nearby, five minutes on foot from here. But, with time, wood became more and more scarce,” said Issa, who cooks for her family of seven.
Sometimes the search for wood took the whole morning, she said.
“On our way, we usually met women from the village also searching for firewood. Some fights broke out in the bush because the villagers said we are responsible of the loss of wood at Mbile,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Mamadou Lamine, president of the Mbile Young Refugees’ Association decided that his two wives would start buying firewood when one of them returned from the bush wounded.
She had been attacked while cutting wood in the bush, by a woman from the village accusing her of trespassing on her farm.
But buying firewood proved too costly and two months later, his wives had to return to the forest.
“These briquettes are very welcome. I used to spend XAF 5,000 ($8.5) per month just for firewood. Now I have bricks that are not only easier to light but also free,” said the father of four children.
Although the new stoves, made by the refugees, were initially designed for the refugees, villagers have also embraced them.
Mbile now has ten centres making the fuel - five in the refugee camp and five in the village, each producing 8,000 briquettes per day.
The briquettes are made with clay and sawdust from local saw mills.
Nearly 70 percent of Mbile’s population no longer searches for wood in the bush, said Rodrigue Djakou, who runs the project in Mbile for the German development agency GIZ.
“The use of ... briquettes helps to save about 16 tons of dried wood per day around Mbile,” said Djakou.
In one year, about 6,000 tons of dry wood around Mbile will be protected from being cut down as a result, he added.
According to Jean Rodrigue Mbarga, environmental expert at Cameroon’s Ministry of Forests, about one hectare of forest is cut down per person per year to supply enough wood or charcoal to burn. That amounts to about 1.6 kgs of wood per inhabitant per day.
The most recent national data on the use of wood as firewood or charcoal is more than five years old, said Mbarga. But “if 70 percent of Mbile population stops using wood, then about 70 percent of the region’s wood is preserved”, he said.
“These briquettes are a good thing for us,” said Benoit Gbandjo, one of Mbile’s village chiefs.
“We welcomed refugees, we gave them our lands free of charge. Then conflicts broke out because the few resources available were not even enough for us. It became difficult to share these resources,” he said.
GIZ hopes to roll out the new stoves across Kadey department, home to 130,000 locals and 150,000 CAR refugees, all now using firewood.
Marie Mbone, a Mbile villager who is using the new fuel, said: “I am very happy ... Today, there is no more fighting. No need to go to the bush for wood - the briquettes are at home.”
($1 = 587 Central African CFA Francs (XAF))
Reporting by Anne Mireille Nzouankeu; Editing by Alex Whiting.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate