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Turning the Tide – Inside Story of Young Ghanaians Addressing Climate Change through Innovation.

Young Ghanaians are championing locally-led climate solutions through innovation and technology. In this piece, we explore their journey, impact and challenges in their quest to address one of the greatest threats to humanity - climate change.

Young Ghanaian climate activists and youth-led climate organizations in Ghana are challenging the status quo. They are championing locally-led climate solutions through innovation and technology. In this piece, we explore their journey, impact and challenges in their quest to address one of the greatest threats to humanity – climate change.

Abubakar Sulley Amin, a native of Fadama, a suburb of Accra is championing clean cooking through his social enterprise – Zaacoal. Amin has a burning desire to transform Ghana through clean and sustainable cooking. Through sheer curiosity, Amin and his friends found an antidote to the coconut waste menace in Ghana. In the city of Accra, coconut husks and by-products are littered across principal streets. After consuming coconut fruit, vendors and consumers struggle to dispose of the waste. This has caused a sanitation menace in Ghana’s biggest city.

The Coconut Husk Problem – Trash to Cash

Amin relies on raw coconut husks and shells as raw materials for his social enterprise. He gathers heaps of coconut waste and transports them to his work site at Dodowa – a suburb of Accra for processing. Coconut waste undergoes burning without oxygen through modernized kilns and carbonizers. The end products are transformed into charcoal briquettes, packaged and sold to prospective buyers. Amin’s work at Zaacoal is anchored on Sustainable Development Goal 7 which translates into Affordable Clean Energy.

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“I had no training. I started this journey out of curiosity. I researched coconut and continued to improve through self-learning. The first batch of charcoal briquettes produced from coconut was freely distributed to traders within Abeka and Darkuman – suburbs of Accra.

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“The traders were initially reluctant to use coconut charcoal but later attested to the quality of the charcoal. They were excited that the charcoal did not emit dark soot unlike the usual charcoal,”  He added.

The main source of cooking energy in Ghana is charcoal. About 80% of households in Ghana cook with firewood and charcoal. Data from Clean Cooking Alliance suggests that cooking on open fires and wood-burning stoves emits 25% of global black carbon emissions – the second largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide.

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Amin’s work at Zaacoal is crucial in addressing deforestation in Ghana. Charcoal briquettes from coconut provide a potent alternative to the conventional cutting of trees to produce charcoal. This is also relevant in addressing climate change in Ghana. Forests serve as carbon sinks and also have a purification effect on the environment.

The coconut briquette lasts longer compared to traditional charcoal. It is more cost-effective, efficient and environmentally friendly. WHO data reveals that 5 million people die from indoor pollution annually. With a scaled-up production, a lot of households will be safe from indoor pollution from cooking.

The Challenges

Amin’s journey from a student and part-time disc jockey to an environmental activist/social entrepreneur was a daunting one. He started Zaacoal while in school, so he had to combine academic work with starting a social enterprise.

“It was a real challenge getting people to buy into the idea of charcoal produced from coconut waste. When we started, we struggled to get funding or any form of support. Combining school with my new project made it even more tedious, ” He emphasized.

Abubakar shares his struggles with a beaming smile. He is looking forward to scaling up production to meet the cooking energy demands of many households and industries. He hopes his work will help address the destruction of Ghana’s forests on the back of a charcoal-reliant cooking industry.

The Collective Power of the Youth

Youth Bridge Foundation represents one of the budding youth-led organizations championing climate solutions with technology. They are spearheading a youth-led reforestation project dubbed the ‘Duapa project’ that is pivotal to Ghana’s climate adaptation strategy anchored on Nature-based solutions.

Youth Bridge Foundation trains Ghanaian youth to use mobile phone technology to collect data through tracking and monitoring the growth of plants and the extent of tree loss. Under this project, community members with no experience in scientific research and data collection are trained to use technology and indigenous knowledge to monitor plant growth.

The Senior Programs Officer at Youth Bridge Foundation, Joyce Nyame describes the project as timely and crucial in driving Ghana’s climate ambition.

“Our project is anchored on the country’s largest and greatest asset – the Youth. More than 70% of the population is under the age of 35 years. Our project rallies young people to understand the implications of climate change and take action in addressing them.”

“Additionally, the project has an efficient mechanism, unlike many other climate projects by combining indigenous knowledge with innovation to cause a multiplier effect and result for the communities and country as a whole.” She added.

She further highlighted the impact of their project on the local communities since its implementation.

“Our local communities have a better appreciation of climate change issues. They see the work put in and are fulfilled seeing the results and knowing their communities are contributing their quota to nation-building.”

“Our trees sourced from the Center for Scientific and Industrial Research, Bunso includes medicinal plants which will be harvested, processed, and sold by the communities to reap shared value,” She opined.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reveals that approximately 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, one-third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels, is absorbed by forests every year.

Joyce reveals that at the onset of the “Duapa project,” they faced a logistics challenge. The team struggled to negotiate for resources like land, seedlings and manpower. Most of these items were finally given at a reduced cost but they hindered the project in the early stages.

She tells Climate Insight that the global community has been receptive to the Duapa project post-COP26 when it was launched and at COP27 when they presented results from the pilot phase.

“We envision a time when communities experiencing severe forms of forest cover loss can use the Duapa project to regain the health of their lands and improve the standard of their lives.”

Empowering Ghana Youth to Address Climate Change

The Programs Officer of Green Africa Youth Organization, Nii Noi Omaboe opined that young Ghanaians must be at the heart of the climate discourse.

“The government must support the Ghanaian youth with resources to create more green jobs. They must also educate and sensitize the youth on green jobs as well as provide subsidies and available markets for environmentally-friendly products,” He reiterated.

The Capacity Building and Education Officer for the Youth Climate Council Ghana, Margaret Impraim believes addressing climate change requires innovation and young people must be given the necessary support to thrive.

“All stakeholders including government and the private sector must provide grants to young people especially those in rural areas to accelerate youth innovations and initiatives on climate change”

“As the youth and the future of Ghana, policymakers and leaders must include us as key stakeholders in the formulation of climate policies and the fight against climate change.”

Amin Abubakar and Youth Bridge Foundation represent the myriad of young Ghanaian activists and youth-led organizations driving the climate agenda through sheer innovation. They continue to prove that young people have the capacity to address climate change. Despite the gloom of climate change, young Ghanaians are turning the tide.

This report was completed as part of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development’s 2022 Climate Change Media Fellowship in West Africa with funding support from the Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Open Climate Reporting Initiative (OCRI).

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