Subject: TIMOR-LESTE: High hopes for bio-briquettes

TIMOR-LESTE: High hopes for bio-briquettes

DILI, 3 November 2009 (IRIN) - Bio-briquettes, a cheap and environmentally friendly fuel, could have the twin benefit of mitigating unemployment and deforestation in Timor-Leste - two significant problems in one of Asia's poorest nations.

"We're increasing our capacity for our future," said Mateus Tame, one of a group of young workers learning the art of briquette production in Dili, the capital, who was busy turning gallons of mush into neat stacks of what looked like cardboard doughnuts.

"It's difficult for young people to find jobs. We are a new country," the 20-year-old said.

Since formal independence in 2002, Timor-Leste's post-occupation generation has struggled to find work. While most of the population of 1.1 million is engaged in subsistence farming, unemployment in urban Dili peaks at about 40 percent among the youth, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Widespread unemployment contributed to the crisis in 2006 when more than 150,000 people were displaced.

According to the <> Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the violence was the result of political rivalries dating back to the independence struggle up to 1999; divisions between "easterners" and "westerners"; as well as chronic poverty and a large and disempowered youth population.

Today about 40 percent of the population live below the poverty line of US$1 a day, according to the UN.

Timor-Leste remains one of the poorest countries in Asia With bio-briquette production, three people can make about 750 briquettes a day, sold for 2 cents apiece, with the potential for workers to make about $4-5 a day.

Environmental benefits

According to the Asian Development Bank, the forests, home to 25 rare and endangered bird species, are fast disappearing, with an estimated 31 percent of the area seriously degraded.

An estimated 17.4 percent of the forests was destroyed between 1990 and 2005, say activists.

Nicholas Molyneux, sustainable environment capacity building adviser to Haburas, the environmental civil society group spearheading the project, told IRIN: "In Metinaro [on the outskirts of Dili] we calculated that people were illegally extracting about 10 truckloads a day to sell as fuel wood, each truck probably with three or four tonnes in it," he said.

"It's a forest that isn't being replenished in any kind of way," Molyneux said.

Deforestation, coupled with high seasonal rainfall, makes Timor-Leste's land less fertile and creates a vicious cycle that ultimately ends up with the whole natural environment becoming degraded, he added.

While unsustainable deforestation continues, it is mostly out of necessity for cooking fuel; however, for the project to really work, Haburas must first convince people the briquettes are a viable alternative to wood.

Making the briquettes involves a solution of water, shredded paper, sawdust and coffee husk mixed together and then shaped with one of five wooden presses before being laid out to dry.

The paper comes from local offices, the sawdust from a nearby waste-management company and the coffee husk from the Cooperativa Café Timor, which has donated space on its grounds for the briquette groups to use as a training centre.

The briquettes burn quicker, easier and cleaner than wood, and they are cheap, especially considering that a small bundle of wood costs 25 cents and much of the population spends a considerable proportion of their income on fuel wood.

Given time, Molyneux hopes a small-scale industry can be run independently countrywide.

According to Abilio Fonseca, national adviser for the government's National Directorate for International Environment Affairs: "Our observations are that poverty in the community contributes to over-exploitation of primary natural resources, like collecting wood for sale."


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