Protecting Chisinga’s Forests

A blog written by Maria Kameta, winner of The Seed Prize 2022.

I have been happy many times in my life, but the joy that came when I was told that I had won The Seed Prize was extraordinary. It was overwhelming. I was so happy because I knew what it would mean for my community members, knowing their lives would improve. I felt blessed to be the one to change their situation and help solve some of their problems.

My project, ‘Clean and Efficient Energy for All,’ aims to reduce deforestation and support local forest conservation. It is set to change the lives of thousands of citizens in Chisinga, Malawi. Due to lacking alternative cooking solutions, firewood and charcoal have been the only energy source for many years. Energy-efficient stoves and fuel briquettes are my answer to the problem. I am doing this to protect, conserve and restore nature, help local people find better ways of cooking and change their mindset regarding environmental issues. I want to motivate fellow young people to take action to help conserve and restore nature and become environmental leaders. About 86% of the people I have reached out to through my project have changed their mindset about the environment and can now take action on their own for the well-being of mother nature.

My project has constructed double-burner energy cooking stoves in 475 households. These burners are more efficient because they retain heat and can cook multiple dishes simultaneously using the same heat. Alongside this, we’ve also been making fuel briquettes. I collect these from waste paper and excess sawdust from schools, offices and carpenters. I bought two briquette-making machines with part of the grant funding from The Iris Project. I will never forget the day I went to deliver these machines. The women in my community were filled with tears of joy!

So far, we’ve produced and sold 22,850 briquettes. Trained school students and women have made these. I’ve also mentored 100 youths to become climate change ambassadors. They are now championing climate education in their schools and communities. I feel proud to lead an action group on climate change in my community.

There have also been difficult times during the management of my project. Choosing which households would receive a cooking stove filled me with sadness. I had a limited number of homes I could select, and I had the most challenging time choosing. There were a lot of people in the community who wanted one, but I could only pick 500. I could feel the pain of the people who were not getting one. More people are longing to have access to energy-efficient stoves, and I hope I’ll be able to grow and scale my project so that as many people as possible can have one.

This project has helped me gain new skills and experiences, boosting my knowledge. Now I have skills in networking, communication and civic engagement. I can address people with more confidence. I’m empowering people in my community with the knowledge and understanding of complicated climate change issues. Through this project, I have met diverse people from different countries and made friends with people who support and encourage me to continue doing this work. This has triggered me to work extra hard, knowing people love and benefit from my work.

Maria Kameta