Food waste recycling and climate resilience in West Africa

Bakoteh dumpsite in 2015, before recent improvements

Zoë Lenkiewicz, Senior Technical Advisor and Head of Communications at WasteAid, says, in The Gambia, decisions around natural resource management are ‘critical for sustainable development’. Here, she outlines how WasteAid is supporting The Gambia’s efforts with sustainable resource management and climate resilience. 

Much of the talk around climate change centres on reducing emissions, but an equally urgent task is building climate resilience. This is particularly true for countries that generate negligible emissions, but are severely affected by extreme weather conditions.

In The Gambia, where WasteAid has had a presence since 2015, leaders are all too aware of the connected needs to improve waste and resource management and climate resilience.

In a country where agriculture and fisheries represent 22 per cent of the country’s GDP (compared to 0.6 per cent in the UK) and provide subsistence to an estimated 70 per cent of the population, decisions around natural resource management are critical for sustainable development.

WasteAid’s programmes build local capacity, decarbonise waste management, and support the development of safe and sustainable waste management in countries that don’t have the benefit of a CIWM or ESA!

In April 2021, the national government and UNDP published Circular GHG Mitigation Opportunities: The Gambia, stating:

“The identification of circular GHG mitigation opportunities should be aligned with environmental and socio-economic development priorities. The Gambia’s environmental priorities are to improve climate resilience in the agricultural sector, protect watersheds by increasing the forest area under community management, and preserve natural assets by reducing waste accumulation and the excessive extraction of primary resources.”

To support The Gambia’s efforts with sustainable resource management and climate resilience, WasteAid has recently launched a food waste recycling programme in the capital city, in partnership with Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC).

Mayor Talib Bensouda, Kanifing Municipal Council, announcing the launch of WasteAid’s new food waste programme

Mayor Talib Bensouda of KMC has green ambitions for the city. WasteAid has been in discussions with the Mayor and his team since 2019 to determine practicable and affordable ways to reduce reliance on waste disposal. Earlier this year, thanks to a grant from the EU, the two organisations launched a project that will see food waste collected from local markets, and transferred to women’s gardens (where the majority of the country’s crops are grown), to make compost, biochar and charcoal briquettes.

Not only will this project reduce the amount of waste being disposed of at Bakoteh dumpsite [see box], but it will also support climate resilience among vulnerable communities.

WasteAid will survey market stallholders at the city’s markets to understand their waste management knowledge, attitudes and practices. At the same time, waste composition analyses are characterising the waste generated at these sites. KMC will install food waste collection bins, and local community organisation will set about speaking with the market vendors and explaining which materials to separate – and importantly, the local benefits.

The organic waste will then be transferred to local women’s gardens, where local partners will deliver training on a variety of processes – composting, biochar production, and the manufacture of charcoal briquettes. Returning organic material to the soil will support the carbon and nitrogen cycles, while improving soil health and water retention.

Biochar, made from the pyrolysis of woody waste, will be added to soils to further improve microbiology. Woody waste will also be used to make charcoal briquettes, which can be used as a substitute cooking fuel in place of firewood (or charcoal products) from the fragile Casamance Forest.

With CIWM’s report Skills for the Future, and the ESA’s Net-zero greenhouse gas emissions strategy for the UK recycling and waste sector, now is a good time for the industry to work with global partners to make impact at scale.

WasteAid’s programmes build local capacity, decarbonise waste management, and support the development of safe and sustainable waste management in countries that don’t have the benefit of a CIWM or ESA!

Profile: Bakoteh dumpsite

Previously an out-of-town quarry, Bakoteh dumpsite is now enveloped by the city of Banjul, The Gambia’s capital city and most populous area. Until recently, the dumpsite had free access for people to dispose of their waste, scavenge for sellable materials, or simply to walk from one side of the city to the other.

Fires were not uncommon, filling the city streets with noxious black smoke. In 2020 the Council completed a perimeter wall to control access to the dumpsite, installed a gate office and banned open burning.

Limited town planning regulations also meant that brownfield areas adjacent to the dumpsite could be built upon, with rainwater draining into the dumpsite. Today, heavy rains always bring with them the risk of localised flooding, with streets, homes and businesses deluged with black liquid containing unknown health and environmental hazards.

The dumpsite needs to be closed and remediated, with alternative provisions for waste disposal. This will require regional cooperation and technical support as the country, as yet, has no waste management sector.

WasteAid is committed to maintaining its relationship with key stakeholders in The Gambia, to share skills and knowledge, build local capacity, and to make continual improvements towards safe and sustainable waste management.

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