In Maiyama, a rural settlement in Kebbi state, northeast Nigeria, Rukayya Adamu starts her day by harvesting firewood from a nearby bush. She does this not only to provide for her family but also generate income through selling a portion of the wood.
Rukayya is just one of 150 million Nigerians living in rural communities who heavily depend on wood, charcoal, and other environmentally harmful biomass for their daily cooking needs.
The economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic have been particularly harsh especially on women residing in rural regions of Nigeria.
Many have been compelled to engage in businesses that pose significant environmental threats, such as firewood sales, simply to make ends meet. Unfortunately, the pressing need to put food on the table often overshadows concerns about the adverse effects of climate change.
Nigeria ranks second worldwide, trailing only China and India, in terms of the percentage of its population lacking access to clean cooking solutions. As a result, most Nigerians have resorted to using firewood for cooking, heating and various domestic chores as a coping mechanism for the nation’s challenging economic conditions. Tragically, a significant number of Nigerian women suffer from health issues caused by prolonged exposure to firewood smoke, with the World Health Organisation estimating over 98,000 deaths annually attributed to this source.
Despite Nigeria’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, the nation still grapples with the alarming number of women and children facing health ailments due to consistent exposure to firewood and charcoal. Moreover, the environmental impact of deforestation and the sourcing of firewood from tropical forests, including national parks home to endangered species like monkeys, elephants and large cats cannot be overlooked.
For Rukayya, the absence of basic education or life skills for sustainable livelihoods led her to venture into the firewood business.
"I started this firewood business because it was the only thing I could do. I had no skill or money to do other businesses, so I began to buy firewood in large quantities for cooking and, at the same time, sell some to households, "says Rukayya.
However, Rukaya found hope and opportunity when the Nigeria for Women Project (NFWP), a World Bank-funded initiative aimed at enhancing women’s livelihoods in selected Nigerian states, was introduced in Maiyama. Women aged 18 and older are organized into Women Affinity Groups (WAG), where they learn to pool their resources and save for future needs. The funds are subsequently made available as loans to group members to either expand their existing businesses or launch new ventures. The project has so far touched the lives of more than 400,000 women across six states of Nigeria and disbursed more $17 million in business grants.