The felling of trees to burn charcoal has often been blamed for the mass destruction of forest cover and damage to the environment.

But with energy sources such as gas and electricity being too expensive for the majority of Kenyans, charcoal remains their best option.

This has often led to many conflicts between the authorities and charcoal dealers/ burners; in effect, creating a shortage and pushing the cost up for consumers.

To meet this demand for energy and save the environment from further destruction, Cookswell Jiko, a biomass energy-saving company, has come up with an ingenious method that produces charcoal without having to cut down a tree.

In what it refers to as the Seed-to-Ash energy-saving concept, the company started by the late Dr Maxwell Miring’u Kinyanjui in 1982, and now managed by his son, Teddy, has perfected the art of charcoal burning with a specially designed drum kiln that provides a simple, faster and sustainable way to make charcoal without cutting down trees.

The kilns are designed to limit the amount of oxygen used during combustion, thus cutting down on the wastage that goes with the normal charcoal burning, where a large portion of the wood is burnt into ashes.

“Normally, it would take a number of days to get charcoal with conventional charcoal production methods, but with our kilns, the charcoal is ready in six hours,” says Teddy.

The kiln is designed to convert anything wooden into charcoal from harvested tree branches, bamboo and coconut husks, thus sparing millions of trees from the axe.

Cookswell’s wide array of energy-saving inventions combined with the Seed-to-Ash concept is a godsend in a country that is struggling to reclaim depleted forest cover due to spiralling demand for wood fuel and a rapidly growing population that demands more farmland.

“It is very simple. Plant your own trees and make your own charcoal without cutting down a whole tree,” says Teddy.

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In the last two decades, the company has developed 19 models of energy-saving jikos – from Nyama Choma barbeque grills and multi-cookers to charcoal ovens.

“Cookswell Jikos was founded as a household biomass energy supply systems company. I am honoured to continue with my father’s goal of improving the efficiency and sustainability of the Seed-to-Ash cycle of biomass energy that represents the majority of Kenyans’ energy needs,” he told Smart Farmer Magazine.

The Seed-to-Ash cycle is a demonstration of how trees and biomass can be managed responsibly to ensure the protection of forests.

“Correct management and use of trees is the key to promoting an environmentally friendly energy solution,” says Teddy.

“It is easy to participate in the Seed-to-ash cycle: plant trees, using wood without cutting down the whole tree down and use energy-saving stoves.

“From tree branches, bamboo to coconut husks, anything woody is used in making charcoal using the kilns. Fire is lit inside the base of the kiln and the material for making charcoal is left to burn for six hours,” says Teddy.

Distributing the kilns goes hand in hand with a sustained afforestation campaign, with a portion of the profit generated from the sale of the appliances allocated to cover the cost of providing 200 free tree seeds to each customer with every oven and charcoal drum kiln purchased.

Traditional charcoal making methods are labour intensive and costly but with this method, you only incur the initial cost of purchasing or making the kiln, says Teddy.

Charcoal is not the only use of these bio-friendly kilns.

Teddy taps the smoke and uses a component in it to control termites. “I discovered that there are different components of smoke produced when burning charcoal. There is tar and wood vinegar, which I discovered can curb termites and the ants,” he says.

This way, nothing goes to waste with a Cookswell kiln, not even smoke.

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Check out more on Cookswell Jiko all in Issue21 of Smartfarmer Magazine Here

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