Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Zambian Youths Invest In Environmentally Friendly Charcoal

Gilbert Tembo with Science and Technology Minister
Felix Mutati at the National Innovation Fair.
By Paul Shalala

As the energy crisis hits Zambia, adverts from the power utility Zesco keep being published in daily tabloids, guiding consumers on which towns and areas of the country are likely to be loadshedded.

This has forced Zambians to use charcoal as a back-up energy source.

Making charcoal means cutting down of trees in the wild and almost all charcoal burners do not take part in afforestation programs.

To make matters worse, there is no law or policy in Zambia which compels people to replant trees after felling trees.

This situation has led to the wanton destruction of the forests and protected areas.

The price of charcoal has even reached an all-time high, fetching three times what it was five years ago.

A 50 kilogram bag of charcoal is now selling around K120 and this has become big business for some Zambians.

To mitigate the impact of deforestation, some youths in Zambia are now investing in clean energy sources such as charcoal briquettes which are environmentally friendly and do not emit smoke while burning.

One such youth is Gilbert Tembo aged 34 of Katete District in Eastern Province.

“I invented a coal briquette made from agricultural wastes such as maize combs, groundnut shells, rice husks, soya beans stalks, grass or leaves. It is an alternative energy for charcoal and firewood,” said Gilbert in an interview.

His invention has made him compete at various levels this year and he recently got funded to expand his business.

Some of the charcoal briquettes Gilbert makes

At a Provincial Innovation Fair held in Eastern Province earlier this year, Gilbert pitched his idea and he was selected among five innovators to represent Eastern Province at the National Innovation Fair which took place at Mulungushi International Conference in Lusaka from 4 to 5 November 2021.

“I participated in the National Innovation Initiative contest organized by UNDP, NTBC, PACRA and UNFP in Lusaka. Out of 3,100 applicants, 100 were shortlisted countrywide and I was one of them. 20 finalists are to undergo a business acceleration training. And I found myself amongst the finalists and got awarded a sum of K50,000, plus a breakfast with the Honorable Minister of Science and Technology Mr Felix Mutati at southern Sun Hotel.”

Gilbert’s innovation is smart energy and it fits in well with the resolutions of the recently held United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Glasgow, Scotland where deforestation was pointed out as a major threat to the environment.

Developed countries have pledged millions of dollars to third world countries to fight deforestation.

According to official government statistics, 79% of Zambians both in urban and rural areas use charcoal as fuel for cooking and heating.

To satisfy this huge appetite for charcoal consumption, about 300, 000 hectares of land is lost annually in the country.

To curb this, Gilbert thought of inventing an alternative energy source which is cheap, environmentally friendly and safe as it does not emit harmful gasses when burning.

He adds: “I plan to commercialize and pack in 5, 10 and 50kg bags. This project has the potential to create direct and indirect jobs and it will add value to people’s lives. Climate change is real as evidenced by extreme hotness, floods, poor rain pattern and we need to do something.”

Another youth who is investing in sustainable energy sources is Collins Simfukwe, a 34 year old inventor of Mufulira District on the Copperbelt.

Collins is a former miner who quit his job at Mufulira Mine in order to establish a business to supply smokeless charcoal to clients.

Collins Simfukwe showing one of the machines
he invented at his factory

“I worked in the mines soon after completing Grade 12 but later, I resigned and started working on my own. It was a risk but here iam, am selling these charcoal briquettes to various clients,” said Collins.

When this author visited Collins at his house where he manufactures the charcoal briquettes, he was shocked to see how the small house in Kantanshi Township has been turned into a fully-fledged factory.

All the machines being used there were invented and made by Collins.

He says he started inventing things when he was a member of Junior Engineers, Technicians and Scientists (JETS) in Grade five at Mufulira Basic School.

“JETS took me to South Africa, Namibia and all over Zambia where we attended fairs and showcased our inventions. It is this experience which led me to venture into smokeless charcoal briquettes,” he added.

When making the charcoal briquettes, Collins uses maize cobs, leaves, grass and anything that is thrown around.

In that way, he converts waste into an environmentally friendly energy source which does not release smoke into the atmosphere.

And most of his clients are poultry farmers both in Zambia and abroad.

“Ordinary charcoal emits a lot of smoke but charcoal briquettes do not emit smoke. One briquette burns between seven and 10 hours and poultry farmers in Mufulira, Kitwe, Lusaka and the Democratic Republic of Congo come here to order because they last long.”

With the creation of the Ministry of Green Economy and Environment, Collins is ready to work with government to promote clean energy sources.

He says with the experience he has in producing charcoal briquettes, he can advise the Ministry on better options for energy use.

Collins works with his wife and a relative at their factory which is just in the backyard of their house.

Due to lack of funding, they use domestic electricity for their production and lack of enough space at their house means they cannot expand production.

However, their actions have been noticed by the Mufulira Municipal Council.

Charcoal briquettes which Collins produces

“We will promote what this young inventor has done and we will give him enough land so that he can expand his business,” said Mufulira Mayor Tanaeli Kamanga in an interview.

Another official from the local authority Castro Chisanga, the Director of Public Health, toured the factory to see what Collins is doing

“We are impressed as a local authority, this inventor is using organic waste and he is playing a vital role in conserving the environment. There is rampant deforestation in Mufulira but if this business is promoted, our trees will be spared,” said Mr Chisanga.

A Copperbelt-based environmentalist Lovemore Muma says the two inventors, Gilbert of Katete and Collins of Mufulira, need to form cooperatives and source for funding to expand their businesses.

“These are important inventions which can change the lives of many youths in the country. Let these youths form cooperatives to access funding. That way, they will be able to expand and impact the nation by reducing deforestation which is driven mainly by charcoal production,” said Mr Muma who is also Executive Director of The Earth Organisation.

Mr Muma has urged the two young inventors to work with the Ministries of Small and Medium Enterprises, Green Economy and Environment and Science and Technology to commercialise their inventions.

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