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Will school feeding deter Rwanda’s green ambitions?

The New Times logo The New Times 29/03/2023 Emmanuel Ntirenganya

A concern lingers over the non-stop use of fuelwood – wood that is harvested from forestlands – in the kitchens of hundreds of schools countrywide as they cannot afford alternative energy sources for cooking their meals, it has emerged. The danger is that the cutting of trees to use as wood fuel for schools, among other institutions, without replanting them is causing the rise of CO2 pollution in the atmosphere. According to the Minister of Education, Valentine Uwamariya, the issue of using firewood as a cooking fuel in schools can create a problem because schools do not have alternative fuels for cooking students’ meals. Uwamariya told the lower chamber of parliament, on march 28, that schools have inadequate resources and this challenge therefore constrains their use of cooking gas. She was speaking during a session with the House’s standing Committee on Education, Technology, Culture and Youth. ALSO READ: Rising gas prices threaten adoption of clean energy in schools The session was deliberating on the issues observed during the lawmakers’ oversight activity undertaken from November to December 2022 when they visited schools in various districts across the country. In 2021, the Government started implementing its plan to extend the school feeding programme to all pupils and students from pre-primary to secondary school schools countrywide. ALSO READ: All schoolchildren to get meals as government reviews policy According to the 2020/21 education statistical yearbook by the Ministry of Education, there were over 3.8 million pupils and students in Rwanda in 9,645 schools including nursery, primary and secondary schools. Of those pupils and students, 3.48 million were from public and government-subsidised schools. Cooking meals for this large number of students requires cutting many trees for wood fuel. “We also observed such concerns; if we keep using firewood at the current rate, it will continue to cause a problem,” Uwamariya admitted. For example, to feed 2,953 students every day, Groupe Scolaire Ndera, a school in Gasabo District, Kigali, currently spends Rwf27,000 on each stère – a unit of volume equal to one cubic metre – of wood fuel. According to the head teacher of G.S. Ndera, Pascal Sindahabo, they use about 65 stères every school term. The school cannot afford LPG gas considering all the other expenses they must contend with, he said. ALSO READ: Rwanda reaches 30% forest cover target According to the Fifth Rwanda Population and Housing Census, 2022 Report published in February by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda, the main sources of energy for cooking used by the private households in the country, are firewood (76 per cent), charcoal (17 per cent), and gas (5 per cent) – at national level. Under the National Strategy for Transformation (NST1), Rwanda targets to reduce the rate of households using firewood for cooking to 42 per cent by 2024 as the country seeks to adopt clean cooking energy solutions and reduce household air pollution emissions. Uwamariya said that as long as firewood is not yet replaced as a cooking fuel in schools, the Ministry is providing schools with energy-efficient cooking stoves (mivero) that use relatively less firewood. Even then, however, schools will still use firewood. LPG gas not a green energy? Although LPG is classed as a fossil fuel, it is also considered green energy due to having little implications for the atmosphere with harmful gases. Uwamariya said among the projects under Rwanda’s Green Fund (FONERWA), the Ministry is pondering how it can get funds to contribute to clean cooking energy in schools – so as to replace the use of firewood. However, she said, there is still a major challenge about that because, under the strategy of the Ministry of Environment, and the facilities meant for people to implement environment-friendly projects, you realised that the gas we use for cooking [at household level] is not eligible for such financing. She said: “We could maybe think of a project for using cooking gas in schools, but LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) is not allowed among those projects because they [the Ministry of Environment] say that it is not green. It therefore requires finding other means including briquettes.” In response, MP Justine Mukobwa said that though the Minister said the Ministry of Environment does not consider LPG as green energy, “I think it is a better option when compared to charcoal, or firewood, because we don’t have anything else in place that can replace gas.” ALSO READ: Clean cooking energy attracts attention of public institutions “What people are generally using currently, which tries to be environmentally friendly, is gas,” the lawmaker said, suggesting that the requisite amount of firewood to prepare food for all the students cannot be obtained even in the long term because of the level at which trees are being cut down. “I wonder whether we can have the trees in the country to help cook meals for all students in the schools under the school feeding programme; or we risk being a desert?” she wondered. “The good thing we agree on is that it (cooking gas) reduces the gas emissions that are harmful to the atmosphere.” ALSO READ: Rwanda to plant 36 million trees to cope with climate change In an interview, Environment Minister, Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, told The New Times that: “LPG is cleaner than biomass use, tree cutting for firewood, but it is not considered as a green energy source by some of our partners since it is a component of fossil fuels.” Mujawamariya noted that “we know what is better for our country,” instead of cutting trees and risking becoming a desert, it would be wiser to exploit other sources of energy. “Those environment [funding] facilities cannot solve all our problems. Sometimes we have to devise strategies for finding solutions.” ALSO READ: Rwanda raises $100m funding towards green development By august 2022, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) had provided $100 million to Rwanda for urgently needed climate action. The GCF is the world’s largest climate fund, mandated to support developing countries to realise their climate action plans towards low-emission, climate-resilient development.

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