Now that’s razor sharp!

Bondo, Kenya, Bondo | February 14th, 2012

I’m lucky enough to be in Kisumu, Kenya at the moment for some PISCES project meetings (more on that in later posts). Today we went to a small town called Bondo to do some research on the charcoal markets and the challenges involved in producing this vital energy source sustainably.

We met a feisty group of young women who sell charcoal in the town market. During the rainy season, it is harder to make charcoal and transport it to town, so these women can struggle to buy any off the transporters and sell it for profit.

In order to combat this, as well as some of the other ups and downs that go with being self-employed, they have set up the Charcoal Sellers Bondo, a 17 member collective of men and women who transport and sell charcoal in the town. If someone doesn’t have any cash due to a sudden shortfall, then the rest of the group can help out, and they hope to put some money into a storage facility so that they can store charcoal in the dry season and sell it in leaner times.

It’s not rocket science, but helping to organise markets more effectively is so essential to their incomes, and something we work on at Practical Action. We left the ladies with a joke about the fact that many of them are unmarried or divorced, so they look after their charcoal better in the absence of a man- we all agreed the charcoal was probably better behaved anyway!

Just as we were about to head out of town, we saw a touch of genius. A gentleman riding a bike, but rather than heading down the street, he was stationary, and using the mechanical power to spin a stone that he was using to sharpen knives. Judging by this photo, you can see he was a bit of a poser, but I would be more than smug with myself if I had cornered that market. What a simple, brilliant use of an everyday technology.

What a brilliant day. Thanks Bondo!

3 responses to “Now that’s razor sharp!”

  1. dan Says:

    i was laughing about this remark made by the Bondo ladies, “they look after their charcoal better in the absence of a man”- we all agreed the charcoal was probably better behaved anyway!
    these ladies should know men are the pillar for any home.

  2. Alison Crane Says:

    I was interested to see this blog. I am a volunteer at Global Footsteps, a charity based in Cheltenham that makes links between community groups in different parts of the world. We have a good link with projects in Kisumu, and I was actually there the same time as you, Katie! I just stayed for a week with the Aniga Women’s Initiative, which acts as a self-help support group for people in Reru in Kisumu county. There is a credit union, a HIV support group, a farming project, a youth project, a jewellery and bags making co-operative, and they help each other co-operatively to build and repair their homes. A very active initiative!
    They still use 3-stone open fires for cooking, collecting the diminishing supplies of wood daily, and kerosene lamps for lighting. I was interested to read about the bio-ethanol research and the work of PISCES, and would like to know more. I was also thinking that providing Jiko energy efficient stoves would be such a benefit – less pollution, less work, less deforestation etc. I could put you in touch with Benter Ndeda, the driving force behind the initiative, to take things further.
    As you will realise, they are also having problems with climate change – I was there during a drought, and just as I left there were strong winds that did a lot of damage. They are at a bit of a loss regarding sustainable agriculture, and certainly need to build their water resilience. Two possible projects would be to provide more rainwater harvesting, and to extend the village water supply (ground water) by using a solar powered pump and pipes to take it from the well to the central market area. I think permaculture could be a great benefit in this area.
    In general, they are very open to ideas and have the motivation, experience and organisation to make things happen, given the right support.
    I hope you can get in touch to take this further – Practical Action is just the right sort of organisation to make a difference in these circumstances.

  3. Katie Says:

    Dear Alison, thanks for your detailed comments- I hope you enjoyed Kisumu as much as I did. It sounds like there are some good things happening with the Aniga Women’s Initiative and it is always amazing to see positive and constructive cooperatives and groups that provide a social safety net for their members.

    As a first step, I will point you in the direction of our fantastic technical enquiries service, Practical Answers. We have a huge document library with thousands of briefs on how to construct exactly the things you are after, including the Upesi stove: and rainwater harvesting: The beauty of the technology that we use at Practical Action is that it is locally appropriate and low-cost, so hopefully your community groups would be able to set up and run some of these things themselves- especially given the motivation and experience that you describe.

    Good luck and let us know how you get on! Katie

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