Over-dependence on wood for fuel is one of the leading causes of deforestation and desertification across Africa. Over 4 million hectares of forest are depleted each year, which is double the global average. According to the FAO, roughly 575 million people (between 75 – 80% of Africans) rely on wood fuel for household light and cooking. Aside from the rapid rate of deforestation that this practice causes, air pollution from burning wood can also cause a number of health implications when used indoors. Having recognized this, Moses Sanga has developed a micro-enterprise that involves converting recycled farm and municipal waste into clean-burning briquettes and organic fertilizers. The innovative venture is employing farmers, providing cleaner fertilizer and is empowering women, men and youth in the process.
Based in Kampala, Uganda, Sanga began his project in 2010 with his savings of US $500. He started a company called EcoFuel Africa and sought to train poor farmers to turn their farm waste into clean-burning fuel which, once processed into briquettes, could be sold by trained micro-entrepreneurs in local markets. Sanga’s concept begins with low cost kilns, which are locally produced from discarded oil drums. These kilns are leased by their producers to rural farmers who are trained on how to use them to convert farm waste into charcoal powder. The farmers then sell the powder to EcoFuel Africa directly, or to involved micro-franchises. The coarser parts of the charcoal that are unsuitable for briquettes are used for organic fertilizers so nothing goes to waste.
After the powder has been sold, EcoFuel Africa uses an eco-fuel press machine (AKA a briquing machine) to press the powder into clean-burning briquettes. The press machine is manual and doesn’t require electricity, which is unreliable across much of Uganda. Finally, local youth are employed to transport the finished briquettes to markets and networks of distributors via their bicycles. The retailers are primarily local women from the involved and surrounding communities. The briquettes sell for 20% less than traditional fuel wood.
The project has created more than 1,500 jobs in the area and has provided over 3,500 families with clean fuel. It also slows indoor air pollution and desertification, provides women, men, and youth with education and skills training, and reduces malnutrition through the use of organic fertilizers. While the scope of the project may seem small in its current form, Sanga has aspirations to expand. His concern with increasing income generation is equally matched by his concern for the welfare of the environment in Africa, and the implications that deforestation has for the people that live there.
Wood fuel can be plentiful and produced in a variety of ways. However, access to different types of fuel varies widely across the continent. The most common source, particularly in rural areas, is collected firewood followed by charcoal. Collecting wood is time consuming, particularly in areas that are experiencing fast rates of deforestation. When supplies dwindle, people are forced to invest more time and energy into wood fuel collection. As an example, Sanga recalled witnessing his sister forgo school to travel 10 kilometres to the nearest town to purchase manufactured wood fuel because supplies in their community were depleted. In the markets, wood fuel can be purchased in the form of charcoal, chips, pallets, sheets or sawdust. While these supplies are more plentiful than collected firewood, the source of the raw materials is often unclear and the smoke they produce is often acrid and full of chemicals, which is particularly dangerous when used indoors.
To reduce rates of deforestation, Sanga has pledged to use the proceeds from his venture to replant trees all over Africa, starting with Uganda. So far, his company has been responsible for the replanting of over 12,000 trees.
The project is supported by the Great Energy Challenge Grant Program, which is a joint initiative by National Geographic and Shell. It is also being supported by Innovations Against Poverty, which is an initiative by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) that seeks to support entrepreneurial and sustainable business ventures in the Global South.
Moses Sanga has a degree in business administration and has received training in organic charcoal making from the National Council of Science and Technology in Uganda. Over the last 11 years, he has also pioneered a solar retail business, a publishing company, and a rural computer training school. He is also a Ted fellow. Watch him discussing his latest venture in several videos here.