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Reducing poverty in Atlas Mountains

April 20, 2016

​Wood is a scarce resource across North Africa, yet it is commonly used in rural areas as fuel for baking bread in traditional ovens. Rural households can burn through more than one tonne of firewood a year, threatening to deplete forests. 

Working with local manufacturers, researchers in Tunisia constructed and distributed metal oven lids. By preventing heat from escaping, these covers reduce the amount of wood required to operate the ovens. The result was a 50% reduction in energy needed for baking, saving the average household 600 kilograms of firewood a year.

Researchers also identified an opportunity to make use of branches left over from pruning pine trees that were heightening the risk of forest fires. Tunisia’s forest authority began to employ local residents for pruning operations, allowing them to use chipped branches as firewood and better conserve the forest. 

The diss plant proved to be another hidden treasure growing in the Atlas Mountains. A tall perennial grass, diss is used to make rugs and other handicrafts. Researchers worked with local residents in rural Tunisia to profit by crafting parasols that could provide much needed shade. These were sold to nearby hotels in the Sahel and Cap Bon region, allowing some families to increase their incomes by 12%.