Congo’s elderly protect the planet with pellets

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Bavon Mubake may have recently retired from a government job in Democratic Republic of Congo but that doesn’t mean he’s slowing down.

It’s a way to earn money while also helping conserve eastern Congo’s precious forests.

The process starts, Mubake says, by finding all sorts of waste, from maize stalks to decomposing leaves which is then dried and ground into powder.

“We put the powder in boiling water and mix it with carbonized sawdust and then turn it into a briquette,”

With limited access to electricity, most people in Bukavu where Mubake makes his pellets cook with charcoal.

It comes from trees felled in the nearby national park home to the endangered eastern lowland gorilla.

But Mubake’s waste briquettes sell for as little as 100 Congolese francs, or five US cents producing heat at a tenth of the cost of traditional charcoal. They are also smokeless and odorless.

Mubake makes the pellets at Bukavu’s Rehabilitation Center for the Elderly, a sort of club for retirees.

After just three months of operation, it’s producing 2 000 briquettes a week. It’s physical work, says Sylvestre Bin Kyuma Musombwa who heads the center, but it keep you young.

Retirees like Mubake are kept in pocket while also helping reduce the city’s reliance on the rainforest.

South Kivu province, where Bukavu is located, has lost 12% of its tree cover in the last two decades, according to Global Forest Watch, largely due to slash-and-burn agriculture and charcoal production.

And it’s a pattern seen across the Congo River Basin, the second largest tropical forest in the world.

But as Mubake has shown, you’re never too old to make a difference.