Making a living out of charcoal dust in Kenya

Women at Mwariki a estate in Nakuru making briquettes using their handsThe chorus of “jobs are scarce” is a song to many Kenyans. A recent research even went ahead and claimed that Kenya is the second worst country to be born in. But this is only if one is never determined to live a life and maybe the lot that do not understand the truth that all of us were created equally and live in the same country despite a few of us utilising the said country while others opt to curse the same soils and put blames on the land for lack of this or that.

This is even though not the case with some few Kenyans living in the outskirts of the Nakuru town. These Kenyans have decided to utilise what most of us think is better being thrown away, the charcoal dust.

A training offered by Practical Action organisation on how to make charcoal by following very simple procedures that was funded by Finland foreign affairs ministry and Austria development corporation through funds from energy and environment programme of Southern and East Africa that was given to 70 people from the Nakuru county and other 80 from Nairobi county, left some residents wondering why they used to throw away charcoal dust.

Nelly Moraa Ongiri, a resident of Barnabas estate in the outskirts of Nakuru is one of the people who attended the training two and a half years ago and has benefitted from it economically. By way of mixing the charcoal dust with fine soil, little water and a binder, Nelly produces briquette used as substitute to ordinary charcoal that she sells to her neighbours and make some good money out of that.

A 40grams sac of the briquettes go at a price of between 400 and 500 shillings, Nelly says that manufacturing and selling of the briquettes has empowered her financially and she has been able to help her husband to pay school fees for her kids among other developments.

“This business  has really empowered me financially, I pay school fees for our kids while my husband take care of other vital things that would have been otherwise been forgone. Also I have bought a dairy goat through the money I make from selling the alternative fuel, the goat is as well an investment as I milk it and sell the milk to neighbours.” Moraa says happily.

Also, she has employed two young men who help her to make the briquette that owing to high demand around the area, she cannot manage making alone. Her husband Justus Orina Ongiri says that only lazy bones would sit folding hands and say that there is no job.

“Just where you are, if you look keenly, there is a job opportunity, she just used charcoal dust, no one could have thought that it can be reused.”

When we were carrying the interviews, we were forced to keep holding as customers could interrupt time to time to buy the briquettes. Most of them said that they preferred it over the ordinary charcoal as it burns for longer than the ordinary one and its price is half of that of the ordinary charcoal as the sac of ordinary charcoal goes at 800 to 1000 shillings while the briquette only goes for 400 t0 500 hundred.

“The price are fairer as compared to ordinary charcoal, Nelly is really a role model to women around for no one even thought of doing such a thing in this area.” Said Mirriam wangui who had popped in to get a jerry can of briquette to use in preparing lunch.

Among other people who got the training from the practical action is Charles Karanja, a resident of Murogi area also within the Nakuru town’s outskirts. Karanja says that the briquette have as well changed his life as the new form of energy is the new talk in his area by virtue that briquette  are smokeless and last longer hence can cook more than one meals. He also says that if the youth in the area and all over the country can get the cheap training on how to make briquette, they can completely do away with the “no job” chorus.

“Most youth don’t like manual jobs, they especially think that a job like this one will make them dirty, it is high time they realised that it is out of this dirt, good money comes from.” Advised Karanja.

Unlike Nelly, Mwangi is lucky enough to have gotten hotels as main customers where he sells to them a sac of 40kg at 600 shillings.  He as well sells the briquette at a retail form where a kg goes at 15 shillings.

A group of women at Mwariki A estate in Nakuru town as well have obtained the knowhow and too are not left alone in the business of making money from the charcoal dust.

The group led by Joyce Musangi that unlike Nelly and Karanja who use machine to make the briquette makes the same manually and says that it started by borrowing the charcoal dust from neighbours and friends but forced to start buying the same after the said neighbours and friends realised they are making money out of it.

“We are selling a 2kg can at 25 shillings because people here are not used to this new fuel, we just want to make an introduction after which we shall add the prices.” Said Musangi.

The whole project aimed at working with members of the society in the informal sector living in rural and semi-urban areas promoting the livelihoods of the people living there. This is by way of manufacturing products with readily available raw materials as well as promoting the environmental friendly sources of energy.

Emmanuel Cyoy the practical action project officer says that in both Nairobi and Nakuru, a total of 130 people have received the training on briquette manufacturing, with 30 enterprises already running.

“We are exposing public to this new form of fuel. It is environmental friendly and also serves as a way of cleaning the environment.” Said Cyoy.

© 2013, John Kamau. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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