Goats and Grand Schemes: Zambia Part II

Greetings again from Zambia! I am in the 8th week of my internship with BioCarbon Partners Trust and things have been going very well. I have fallen into a definite rhythm of life in the country. Several things about my work have changed since my last blog post. First, I have been engaged in the redesign of the charcoal project and the management of the construction of new kilns. I am also training a local counterpart to successfully adopt these new systems when I leave in August.

Soon after I arrived, it was obvious that the charcoal project model needed to change. The first model was one in which the Ndubulula Eco Charcoal Association (NECA) – the community organization in charge of the kiln – would be compensated upon the sale of the bags of charcoal. The organization would then pay its members based on a system of their choosing. When I arrived it was found that motivating the workers was difficult and the construction of the kiln was taking too long. To design a new system my counterpart and some others helped me to examine the way charcoal is produced traditionally. I found that traditional laborers are paid by piecework labor by different tasks – chopping down trees, constructing the kiln, or bagging the charcoal – or paid in alcohol and n’shima. A successful project would be one that mirrored the traditional methods (not the alcohol and n’shima) while also paying high enough wages to ensure that people could rely on this project for a living without resorting to unsustainable charcoal production on the side.

Working with my counterpart, we designed a new model for NECA that was based on the traditional model. We identified eight steps – which may change to nine – in the process that would determine the paying of more regular and consistent wages, which we felt would be a better motivator of the workers. We began with a community meeting to discuss the new model and what the pay rate would be for each step, looking to find an agreement on both the steps and fair wages. Ensuring that everyone understood the process beforehand would help the management of the project. A few days after this meeting, we began working on a new kiln.

We began the new system with the first step in the process – felling trees and cutting them into pieces that will eventually be placed in the kiln frame. Using improved harvesting methods, the felled trees will regenerate so that when this strip is returned to in 18 years, it will be found in a similar state to before being cut down. Using axes, the workers cut trees ranging in circumference from 33cm all the way up to 126cm! After felling the tree, they then chop the trunk into smaller pieces for carrying and separate the canopy, which is used to line the forest floor and help with regrowth.

The first step has been a great success. In one week the workers managed to cut down enough trees for two kilns. For comparison, it took over one month to cut enough wood for the previous kiln! So far the system has shown itself to be successful, maybe even too much so. They cut more wood than we needed, causing us to go over budget. Now we will have to design a regulation to prevent this from happening again. However, with projects like these and in designing new systems, adjustments will have to be made as new lessons are continuously learned. When working with community projects, nothing is set in stone and one must continually learn from the lessons that are given by the project implementation.

I have been enjoying this work immensely. Performing the field research to design the new model, seeing the first phase succeed, and being here to work out the kinks in the new model has been especially satisfying for me. Additionally the new model is moving much faster than I had originally anticipated. I may get to see the construction and burning of a kiln from start to finish, which was not expected when I first developed a timeline of the new system. That is an exciting prospect for me.

As I mentioned earlier, I have settled into a rhythm of life in the country. Everything takes more time when one lives without electricity or running water. For instance it takes me 1 hour to make and eat breakfast in the morning. I typically make oatmeal, and between starting a fire, boiling water and cooking the oatmeal I have listened to a good 40 minutes of the BBC news. I have to take time to boil water for hand washing and dish sterilization, which is a few hours every few days. Some days I make enough relish in the afternoon to feed me both lunch and dinner, but starting my charcoal stove takes me about 30 minutes each time and the initial cooking takes around 90 minutes. With the August winds starting now, I sometimes have to light my stove inside my house, which then fills it with smoke for at least an hour, making it uninhabitable for me. Life in the country takes time and patience, but I have settled into the rhythm and these tasks have begun to flow for me.

In a piece of very good news, I have successfully run off the pesky goats I mentioned in the last post. One afternoon I saw them come into my yard, so I grabbed my big stick, swinging it and yelling, running them off into the bush. They returned several times in the next hour and were met with similar fury. After the third time, they did not return, and have not returned to my yard. Now I can safely leave soap in my shower and buckets of water on the porch without worry. Now I have to figure out a solution to the Geckos that occasionally fall from my ceiling.

My time here is short, and it will move quickly. There is much to do, and I am confident that I will leave this project in a good position. I am looking forward to presenting my work to the Wagner community and sharing my story in the fall.

Until next time.

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