UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


UCL researchers collaborate with Kenyan artists on a film about charcoal production and use dilemmas

12 September 2023

Researchers from the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources have worked with Wangechi Ngugi and Daniel Muchina of Arts & Science Afrika on 'Smoke Jumpers'

Kenyan woman holding a smoking censer, from the Smoke Jumpers film

Researchers on the Climate Compatible Growth (CCG) programme are studying the impacts of charcoal policies, particularly bans, on charcoal-reliant communities in Kenya.

Researchers under the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office-funded CCG programme have been exploring the charcoal supply-chain as part of wider work on policies for just energy transitions.

Moving away from charcoal has been on the agenda of development agencies and governments are increasingly introducing regulations, including outright bans on charcoal activities, despite the fact it remains a crucial source of livelihoods and widespread cooking fuel. The research, which focuses on the sustainability dilemmas relating to these charcoal activities in Kenya, has been the source of inspiration for a creative collaboration with artists, facilitated by charity Invisible Dust. The artists are Nairobi-based, specialising in film, work under a collective called Arts & Science Afrika.

Multiple knowledge exchange discussions took place between CCG researcher Rebecca Clube of the Institute of Sustainable Resources, the Invisible Dust curators, and the artists themselves. This enabled the dilemmas faced by charcoal producers and users to be ultimately interpreted into a thought-provoking short film, called 'Smoke Jumpers'. The film is a mythical and abstract portrayal that examines the cultural dynamics that, when mismanaged, can result in environmentally and socially harmful levels of charcoal use and production in Kenya.

Smoke Jumpers premiered at City Hall, London in May 2023; it is available to watch online alongside a panel discussion between the collaborators. There was an additional experimental art installation of the film displayed in Nairobi, Kenya in August 2023 with live music.



Image credit: Stil image from 'Smoke Jumpers', Arts & Science Afrika