Many of Zambia’s young people, like this entrepreneur, seem to have a robust spirit. In Frazer Handondo (37) it is a spirit that collaborates with a healthy dose of business acumen and a real desire to make a difference to the environment.
Frazer has found a way to replace conventional charcoal without threatening jobs in the informal sector. His solution comes in the form of substitute briquettes made from organic waste and charcoal dust.
Zambian forests are declining at the rate of 250 000 ha a year, an alarming rate of deforestation. Efforts to curb the indiscriminate cutting down of trees, by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), have not been successful.
It is a matter of grave concern, that most of Zambia’s energy requirements are met by charcoal, manufactured by charcoal burners who cut down trees to make their product. “All rural, and most urban, households use charcoal for energy,” says Frazer.
Zambia has one of the lowest rates of global electrification, with about 20% of the population having access to electricity.
“The cost of power has skyrocketed,” says Frazer, referring to the recent 50% price hike on power. “And these rising electricity costs have been accompanied by rising charcoal costs.”
WASTE NOT – WANT NOT
Faced with a dual problem Frazer figured out a dual solution. “We need to provide affordable cooking and heating energy, without harming the environment.”
Simple but genius, his answer lay in making combustible briquettes from biodegradable materials like paper, grass, maize stalks, leaves and the charcoal dust that accumulates in the markets. As an added ‘win’ the removal and use of the charcoal dust helps clean up the environment.
Simple but genius, his answer lay in making combustible briquettes from biodegradable materials like paper, grass, maize stalks, leaves and the charcoal dust that accumulates in the markets.
Dumping sites, that litter the city of Lusaka, are another sustainable source of raw materials, Frazer adds.
These are cheap inputs which is a major advantage for a start-up business.
Instead of waiting for financing to set up a big operation, Frazer bootstrapped the business, investing K6000, of his own, in a briquette processor made by local artisans. He set up a small plant at Shimbala, 35km to the south of Lusaka, where he and four labourers operate the machine and market the briquettes.
The processor, a kiln, decomposes biomass through exposure to very high temperatures in conditions of limited oxygen. The briquettes produced burn hotter and last much longer than conventional charcoal.
Things are going well, seven months into the business operation, says Frazer. “We were quick to realise the gap in the market and after only a short while in business we have had a good response.”
Charcoal production involves backbreaking manual work requiring significant physical strength. Frazer is undeterred by arguments that charcoal burning provides employment for about half a million people.
“We are trying to change, for the better, the contribution of the charcoal burners. If they switch to more eco-friendly heating and cooking energies like our product, they can transform their businesses,” he says.
In Lusaka alone, about 85% of urban households use charcoal. “Demand is driven by affordability, and we are in a good position to offer people more affordable, cleaner energy,” he says.
Frazer’s product is competitively priced at K75/50kg in the urban markets, and K50/50kg in the peri-urban and rural markets. Charcoal goes for about K150/50kg in the cities and K80/50kg in peri-urban and rural areas.
But, he admits that meeting the demand is difficult for an operation of this size. Despite the obstacles, he is hard at work branding the product and negotiating key outlets like petrol stations and supermarkets.
“There are several NGOs working to get consumers to switch to eco-friendly cooking and energy sources. Working with groups like this and possibly sourcing funding through donors could be vital in up-scaling our operations,” he says.
Business growth now depends on getting the necessary finance, and on building strong partnerships with local communities. “We can create a new income stream for local communities by buying waste and teaching them how to carbonise the raw material, just as we do it at our small factory,” Frazer says.
He believes that his business is well positioned to get funding from donors, and government agencies eager to mitigate the effects of climate change. But, he is looking at a range of potential sources for financing including banks, corporations and government.
“We have the expertise and the capacity to expand and to make this product available to all Zambians; that’s the reality.”
- Please mail firstname.lastname@example.org, with any farming questions.
- Frazer Handondo can be contacted on 097 775 5995