People in Senegal are turning an invasive weed called Typha into a source of clean energy.
Typha, commonly known as cattail, has been destroying rice crops in rural Senegal for over 30 years, but it's now become a source of economic opportunity.
The bio-coal made from Typha is a cleaner and safer alternative to firewood — making it a popular choice for cooking.
Making bio-coal is expensive and it can be difficult to sell, but locals are still searching for ways to cut costs and increase efficiency.
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This bio-coal is made from an invasive weed that's been ravaging rice fields for over 30 years.
But now it's being used to cook, build homes, and create economic opportunities here in Senegal — all in a sustainable way.
Typha became an international problem after the construction of two dams between Senegal and Mauritania. The dams cut off the flow of water and created ideal conditions for the weed to grow.
For years, both governments tried and failed to find an effective way to eliminate it. Now locals are trying on their own — and with their bare hands — as part of a project led by the French NGO GRET.
The bio-coal is made by burning Typha in these outdoor kilns for six hours at a time.
Yacine Seye, Typha briquette maker: "That is carbonized Typha. We have carbonized 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."
The charred reeds are mixed with water and rice husks. A machine shapes it into briquettes, which are then laid out to dry for three to four days.
Typha briquettes both ignite faster and burn longer than wood.
Typha coal, on the other hand, produces much less smoke.
And the plant can be used for more than just cooking. Typha can also be mixed with clay to make bricks for construction.
Many of the people participating in the project are women.
Seye: "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 bio-coal, we can support our husbands in our homes, educate children, and even cook."
Every month, they turn the equivalent of 13,000 kilograms of Typha into bio-coal.
Although this process creates new sources of revenue, the weed is still endangering valuable farmland.
Djibi Ndiagne, Typha cutter and farmer: "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 it's impossible."
Cutting Typha is labor-intensive and transportation costs are high. It can also be difficult to find a buyer.
But many people still see a potential for Typha. NGOs and locals are working to find ways to minimize costs and increase efficiency.
Ernest Dione, Senegal Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development: "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."
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