Kartong energy futures: chance for positive change

Previous chapters have explored the past and present of energy in Kartong, thereby drawing out a number of themes that have shaped its changing energy metabolism including gender dimensions, infrastructural development and socio-cultural practices such as sharing. In terms of energy sources, the transition towards modem energy services has been met through an increasingly linear energy metabolism highly dependent on fossil fuels to provide motorised transport, grid electricity and even water. Moving forward this suggests that to overcome energy scarcity and meet sufficient demands, Kartong and The Gambia at large will follow conventional development paths based on fossil fuel dependence, centralised power generation and the economic, social and environmental costs associated with this.

Chapter 6 explores current development trajectories in relation to people’s aspirations for the future and sustainable development. Insight into people’s aspirations has been developed as part of several co-design workshops with different stakeholder groups in Kartong which focused on moving from current practices to positive energy futures. These co-design workshops first took place in August 2013 with initial follow-up in January 2015. A local steering group provided guidance in shaping workshop content and recruiting participants. The group was largely comprised of Kartonkas involved in decision making at local level or had experience of public and thud sector organisations. Additional workshops in July 2019 funded through the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grant Scheme, contributed to a more recent perspective. These specifically focused on drawing out perceptions and aspirations of women and young adult men (male youth) whose voices are traditionally less present in decision making at conununity and other levels. Specifically, the chapter shares insights gathered through visioning exercises that were a shared component of all workshops since 2013. Appendix 1 includes a handout prepared for 2019 participants providing a more detailed outline of workshop activities and the underlying methodological framework.

Imagining complex energy futures can be daunting and feel removed from one’s everyday life. To make things more tangible during the visioning exercises, participants in all workshops were instead asked to reflect on their personal experience and list complaints, something which tends to be easier for many people.1 This took place in smaller groups in which each chose areas such as electricity, transport or cooking to create lists of negatives such as ‘we don’t want to be without street lights all over Kartong’ or ‘have bad cars that pollute the environment. ’ Only when groups had exhausted these negative lists were they asked to turn them into positive alternatives, thereby creating a vision for the future.

For the 2013 and 2015 workshop the steering group set a date of 2030 to work towards, in line with national and international policy targets and programmes. In contrast, participants in 2019 set their own timeline for when they wished their vision to be achieved by.

Envisioning food related practices

In 2013, participants had a broad discussion under the heading of ‘heating,’ which largely focused on cooking-related practices. They did not want these to be “difficult” referring to the labour intensity associated, for example, with collecting firewood or producing charcoal. However, it should also not be "expensive” and fuel sources “should not come from outside" Kartong land. Furthermore, practices should not pose a "health hazard” or be “environmentally unfriendly.” Related to this, participants also said "fire should not be used for clearing agricultural] land.” By 2030 participants envisioned “health hazard free and environmentally friendly” alternatives but offered little detail other than “it should [be achieved] by renewable energy.”

In 2015 the group envisioned "food security” and for food to be “sufficient in the community” by 2030. Discussing health impacts and land use, the group wanted to "minimise using firewood” for cooking and instead “promote biogas cooking system[s].” To this day biogas has not become available in the community. Instead, some households rely on conventional gas for cooking meals as an alternative to firewood, despite the additional cost. However, analysis shows that “biogas has significant potential in the Gambia and can be made from animal waste as well as agricultural waste and sewage sludge” (SEforALL. 2012, p. 23). If it is not possible to produce biogas locally, supply could potentially build on existing trade networks of agri- and aquacultural produce to and from Brikama.

Participants also discussed land use more generally because of the clear links to food production, extraction of local biomass such as firewood as well as ongoing tensions over sand mining imposed on the community at that time. The group suggested "not to sell lands,” but that local land should be for “lease or rent.” There should also be "no mining” and “no deforestation.” Instead, the group wanted to see “restoration” through “tree planting.” Some of the discussion was about recent success in restoring of local mangrove forests along the Allahein river.

Furthermore, the group raised concerns over "external food dependency” and the use of chemicals in food production. Participants envisioned that emphasis should be put on "fanning system[s]” which includes the need for a “storage facility." Finally, participants promoted “animal husbandry,” addressing both destruction of vegetable gardens by roaming livestock and providing a sense of financial security as animals can be sold for profit in times of need. In relation to food production, the future was modelled on historic practices in Kartong, when the community was largely able to feed itself and livestock provided security as well as meat produce and other protein.

Fast forward to the rainy season in 2019 and it becomes evident that climate change is already leading to shorter growing cycles for staple crops such as rice. Hie changing climate also puts pressure on water resources available whilst increasing the risk of bushfires that affects fruit orchards and the wider local environment. As permanent secretary for agriculture and Kar-tonka Momodou Mbye Jabang says, reflecting on the increasing absence of ram, "we need to think outside the box.”2 While there are undoubtedly valuable lessons from the past, reverting to historic practices is unlikely to ensure resilient food production in the context of climate change.

During the 2019 workshops, women looked specifically at household energy. Discussions were largely focused on the use of electricity including gadgets such as kettles. However, in relation to major cooking practices, women complained about “stoves that consume[] lots of fuel.” By 2021, they want to “use rocket stoves” and saw this as a priority. Similarly, male youth raised concerns over “[air] pollution from firewood” and wanted equipment to be "free from pollution" by 2021-25.

Male youth also expressed concerns over potential fires from candles being used “carelessly” to provide lighting as well as “unsafe ... gas usage.” Two participants recalled that one of them nearly burned his face when he went to light a gas burner not realising that the valve was left partially open and gas had escaped. They suspected that a child who had access tampered with the bottle.3

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