Swift Choonga is a busy mother of eight in the Zambian village of Mweeshang’ombe in Rufunsa District. Since last year she has also been a BCP ‘Charpreneur’, supporting her family with income generated through the Eco-Charcoal project.
“My family first found out about the Eco-Charcoal project when BCP community staff came to our home as part of their sensitization activities” Swift says.
“At the time I was engaged in unsustainable charcoal production in order to help support my family. My husband and I also farm maize, ground nuts and sweet potato for our family and to sell, but the income is not enough on its own.”
Swift’s husband was actually one of the first community members to get involved with the BCP Eco-Charcoal project when it first began in 2015. He attended the first information and training session after discussing with the family, and subsequently discovered the income opportunity it represented.
“After the training, my husband gave it a go and from the first charcoal burn we realised the new BCP method requires less labour and the production yield is higher and therefor nets more income. Fewer trees being cut is not only better for the forest, but also for those of us undertaking the physical labour” she explains.
When opportunity to involve new charpreneurs came up last year, Swift was one of the first to apply.
“I saw the good that was coming out of the new method, and I wanted to be part of it and reap the benefits myself. The benefits I saw is primarily the greater income opportunity – a smaller cut of wood produces a higher yield of charcoal. With the market connection BCP also provides it is a more viable income for my family” she says.
“My husband and I now work together on producing the Eco-Charcoal – I help with his cutting and production and he helps with mine, but our yields are our own, and the money I make from this enterprise is my own. As a household we share money as needed.
“My participation in Eco-Charcoal has increased my income from 500 kwacha (USD$50) per kiln to 2,900 kwacha (USD$290) per kiln. Since joining this project, the extra income has really changed my life. I have been able to invest in goats and chickens, increase our farm production with good quality fertiliser, and employ people to help plough my field. I have also set up a small business – a grocery store – which I pay someone to mind for me while I’m at the charcoal production site.”
Swift is one of five women to have joined the Eco-Charcoal project and, like BCP, she is hopeful that in time more women will choose to get involved.
“During charcoal production it is just the moving of felled logs to the kilns that is difficult for me as a woman. The rest of the process I am equally as able as the men, and in fact my production is at the same level as any of the men,” Swift says
“It would be great if more women got involved in this project. It is better for our communities that we raise our income, and also better for the environment. Women are very likely to invest in development of the village and of our children for their futures. The more women who are earning income, the better our collective lives will become.”