Kissito exists for the care and betterment of human life. In Africa, natural resources are so intertwined with health, livelihoods, nutrition and poverty that it became obvious that caring for the health of villagers without addressing the root cause of the problems they face is unsustainable. At the same time, there are environmental challenges and opportunities faced by communities in the United States as well. In 2013, the Kissito leadership endeavored to add a new strategy to meet the mission, by engaging in natural resource projects in the United States that could generate resources to apply to our philanthropic work in Africa and elsewhere.
This past summer Kissito began pilot natural resource projects in Africa focused on the common use of crude “three-stone” stoves that are still used for most cooking. These stoves are commonly used indoors where indoor air quality problems result in respiratory and eye infections. Kissito began a pilot project to place higher efficiency improved cookstoves in households in Uganda to reduce the incidence of stove-caused diseases, and since improved cookstoves use half the fuel of a traditional stove, the households that use the improved stoves save considerable expense. Reduced use of fuel also reduces the pressure on surrounding forests to provide wood or charcoal. To further extend the benefits, Kissito also began four small pilot tree planting efforts in Uganda to learn more about the logistical process of acquiring, managing, and conducting tree planting efforts with private landowners. The combination of increasing tree planting and reducing fuel use can drastically increase the amount of time available to households for food production and preparation.
One of the most vexing problems of rural Africa is a lack of clean drinking water. In the summer of 2013, Kissito partnered with faculty and students from the Virginia Military Institute to test the installation of household-scale sand filters designed for that purpose using locally available PVC and water containers. Several systems were installed with local labor in Bushyii village in Uganda, and the team will return in the spring of 2014 to evaluate the installations, make necessary modifications, and add several dozen new units. Training of the villagers will be conducted for both construction and maintenance of the units.
The largest long-term challenge for rural villagers in Africa is the current and expected change in rainfall patterns resulting from climate change. These changes in planting dates and rainfall amounts are already resulting in widespread famine. Improved cookstoves and tree planting mitigate climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. In the United States, Kissito has spun off a new nonprofit unit called the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund that will pursue projects that meet the Kissito mission while generating resources for our international work. Projects to date have focused on utilizing land for carbon sequestration by creating a new wildlife management area in collaboration with the Commonwealth of Virginia. Future projects will include converting facilities to renewable biomass heating to cut energy costs in half and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. By documenting and registering these benefits with the California Air Resources Board, a source of revenue can be tapped that pays for the projects and generates excess revenue for other projects.
-Jeff Waldon, Chief Environmental Programs Officer