In Armenia where forests make up around 11 percent of the territory, every single tree matters. Briquettes - a compressed block of straw, hay and sawdust – can provide low-cost fuel for households without cutting more trees. As an alternative to firewood (which requires cutting trees), straw-hay briquettes save the forest, are cleaner and can even help people make money.
In an Armenian village Mets Parni people are waking up to benefit of this approach.
Better heating saves money
Albert Palyan, a 60-year old resident of Mets Parni, lives with his family of seven members. They tried briquettes for six months to heat their ordinary stove. “One ton of briquettes can replace three to four cubic meter of firewood in an ordinary stove while in a specialized stove briquettes can give twice more heat”, says Albert Palyan.
The briquettes together with manure and wood ensured 12-15 hours heating instead of eight, with about 22-23° C for the main room and 20° C in bedrooms of Albert’s 75 square meters house. He confesses: “Previously with firewood, we had to be around the stove while using briquettes allowed using the whole house during the winter”.
Mainly busy in farming and agriculture, Albert runs a small shop that provides fertilizers. He says that using briquettes ensures no smoke in the house, and there is no need to empty the stove as often as before.
The moisture content of most briquettes is 10 percent or less, meaning they burn better and cause fewer chimney and flue problems as logs sold in Armenia generally have much higher levels of moisture – up to 50 percent.
“That is one of the reasons why financially briquettes are better than firewood especially now that it is getting harder and harder to find wood legally.”
Public climate revolving fund
Mets Parni Community Public Climate Revolving Fund is an organization that received the briquetting equipment with its supporting installations provided by UNDP in Armenia to be used for community development.
“Briquettes are a new trend. They are becoming more popular not only in Mets Parni but also in surrounding villages, but it will take time”, says Gagik Palyan, the Director of the Fund. Since September 2018, the village of Mets Parni has been producing briquettes altogether 510 tons.
Before, 75-80 percent of the community was dependent on the forest. First year, in 2018, only 7-8 percent took their straw to barter with or bought briquettes. By last year, this amount had already reached 13-15 percent.
“In the villages most people wait until their neighbor tries something new. If they see the results, then they are more likely to adopt a similar approach”, explains Gagik, adding that this year hopes are for much bigger figures as even the rate of ordered stoves shows that briquettes are becoming the preferred mode of heating.
Even some entrepreneurs - greenhouses, a restaurant and a guest house turned to use briquettes. Several charity organizations have jumped on the bandwagon, realizing that briquettes are effective. According to Gagik, the fund also helped lonely elderly people and World War II veterans by providing them with briquettes free of charge.
20 households received 20 tons of briquettes instead of their 40 tons of straw. The fund also has bought about 300 tons of straw from around 80 households to make briquettes: what was previously a waste leading to ecological issues because people were burning the straw, became a source of money.
510 tons of briquettes saved 1275 cubic meters of firewood in its turn reducing CO2 emissions by more than 900 tons. “Produced briquettes already saved about nine hectares of forest area, also saving ecosystem and biodiversity, and preventing land degradation,” explains Gagik.
Tractor brings to “live” abandoned lands
Mushegh Gasoyan from Mets Parni has not yet used briquettes but is planning to do so this year, since it is proving to be cheaper than gas and firewood. Mushegh has already benefited from the recovery of the degraded lands, though.
“I have mountain slope lands, and already in the second year benefiting from them - selling straw, which we were burning before, using the grass as fodder. This year I will barter the straw with briquettes”.
Many lands near the village had been abandoned and degraded and often had 4-5 owners per hectare. “By sowing corn and cultivating the degraded lands, we are now able to help them recover”, says Mushegh.
The tractor with plow and drill provided by UNDP helped to solve the issue of saving the lands, Mushegh made his input in it by giving the drilling mechanism to the fund to ensure having all necessary installations for cultivating the slope lands.
Around 130 hectares of slope lands were not used for 25 years. Provision of agricultural machinery and mechanisms alongside with the briquetting and other installations by UNDP helped the 583 households of Mets Parni to preserve the forest and make profitable the slope lands. But it also ensured few but important jobs for locals like Andranik Chilingaryan.
Living in harmony with the forest
Briquette has also opened new employment opportunities for more than 20 locals. Andranik has been working in briquettes production for the last year and a half.
Before getting this job Andranik had to go to Russia every year for work, which kept him apart from his family for months. “I no longer need to leave my home and family,” he says. “Even though the work is seasonal, it is great to stay in the village and be at home with my kids.”
His extended family - wife and two children, parents and two brothers - all are living together. They have already tried briquettes.
“I am thinking of getting a new oven that would be adapted to the briquettes and will be more efficient”, he explains.
“Producing briquettes has allowed me to be at home and take care of my family. Living in harmony with the forest, side by side with your children and family, using waste but not wasting anything: these may seem like small things, but they are things we should all care about”.