Twin brothers try to save Benin's trees with eco-friendly oven
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With hard work and a little elbow grease, two brothers are trying to make eco-friendly gestures a part of everyday life in the small West African nation of Benin. They may be on the right path with their latest invention: a multifunction oven that could help slow down the widespread deforestation in the country.
Franck and Francis have made a name for themselves in Cotonou thanks to their work with Zacoza, a pioneering group dedicated to coming up with new inventions to help protect the environment. The group focuses in particular on fighting back against the rampant deforestation that has stripped Benin bare and left only 30% of the land covered with trees.
The two brothers don't shy away from getting their hands dirty. As well as coming up with new inventions themselves, they travel the length and breadth of Benin showing their fellow compatriots how to consume less. Their flagship product is an eco-friendly multifunction oven that can be used not only at home, but also at work on an industrial scale. They've named the project 'Atingan', a word that means 'the tree is saved' in Fon, a dialect widely spoken in Benin. Instead of relying on wood, the oven relies on an entirely new type of fuel: palm kernel shells.
"We tell people that they'd be doing something that's good for the environment at no extra cost "
In Benin , we produce a huge amount of palm oil. But the nutshells of the fruit are generally thrown away. It's very difficult to put this by-product to good use because the material is too solid to burn in a traditional oven. You'd need a more powerful device in order to process it. Yet with an average of three harvests per year, there's plenty of this fuel to go around – and at very low prices too.
Our oven can be used to carry out a bunch of tasks. Obviously it can be used to cook, but it can also be hooked up to a home's pipe network to heat up water or to heat up a house in general. Everyone can use our product as they wish: traders have even adapted bigger models to cook poultry using as little energy as possible!
According to a study carried out by an environment NGO based in Benin, the brothers' invention consumes 20% less energy than a traditional oven.
All too often, people in Benin, particularly those who live in small villages, cut down trees or buy firewood, both of which speed up deforestation. Yet all the while, there's a low-price solution available at arm's reach. A 25kg bag of palm kernel shells costs around 5,000 CFA francs [Editor's note: 7,60 euros] and lasts around a month. On a monthly basis, that's less than a gas canister [Editor's note: 9,000 CFA francs, or 13.70 euros], and about the same as a bag of firewood [Editor's note: 6,000 CFA francs, or nine euros] for a bag of fuel that's far more efficient.
The twin inventors have coupled an electronics system with a solar panel so that a fan speeds up the combustion process.
We travel to villages across Benin to show off not only our product, but also a new responsible way of consuming energy. For the same price as it costs to use firewood, we explain to people that they'd also be doing something positive for the environment. Our aim is to bring about widespread change to such an extent that eco-friendly behaviour becomes an everyday part of their lives, even in the most remote rural areas.
Franck and Francis admit that the biggest obstacle to pushing ahead with the project is the cost of the oven. At 55,000 CFA francs [Editor's note: 83 euros], the country's poorest inhabitants can only dream of buying one. Despite that, women from towns in the Ouémé region in south-eastern Benin have grouped together to buy several ovens for communal use in villages. So far, the twins have sold 800 ovens, but they're now hoping to set up production on an industrial scale to lower its price.
If you want to get in touch with the brothers, or help them with their project, send them a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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