KELVIN MBEWE, Chilanga
THE demand for charcoal in Zambia is estimated at 76 to 90 percent of households.
This is according to a 2016 report by the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI) on charcoal use in Zambia.
The report predicts the demand for charcoal to continue increasing over the years as it is one of the cheapest forms of energy.
This places forests in the country at high risk of disappearing unless affordable alternatives are found.
If left unchecked, deforestation due to charcoal making has the potential to cause loss of animal and plant species due to their loss of habitation, soil erosion, increased greenhouse gases and other devastating effects.
But as they say, to every problem lies a solution.
A Lusaka businessman in the name of Chikoko Muleya Mudenda is able to make a form of charcoal called briquette using waste products such as garbage, wood chips, sawdust and other materials.
Mr Mudenda owns a company called Bullford Charcoal Briquettes, which is based in Chilanga district, about 5 kilometres from the district offices which are under construction.
He has created employment for about 20 youths, who conduct the manual work.
“This is a simple process which involves collecting garbage from homes and we put it in a vacuum pot and this makes the substance turn black due to fermentation. When the garbage turns black, we mix it with water manually. This process is called carbonation,” he said in an interview with Sunday Mail.
According to Mr Mudenda, the mixture is then poured into a roller which rolls the substance and cuts it into smaller pieces of about 10 centimetres.
“Drying takes about two days, if the sun is not intense but in October, when the sun is scotching hot, it only takes one day. Once the charcoal briquettes are dry, they are ready for sale,” he said.
.“It burns three times longer than ordinary charcoal, it is also smokeless, odourless, and the customers are guaranteed to get value for their money,” he said.
Mr Mudenda says there is a lot of demand for the charcoal briquettes from poultry farmers and ordinary citizens.
“A 5kg bag costs only 10 Kwacha, a 10 kg bag costs 20 Kwacha and so on. The raw material is garbage and that is why we price them cheaply,” he said.
The charcoal briquettes are already making their mark with clients as indicated on Mr Mudenda’s Facebook account called “Bullford charcoal briquettes” where residents are making orders while others are commending the initiative.
Shady Mude Mwaanga said, “Can you deliver for me at Chilanga Zesco office tomorrow?” while Fred Mwanakatwe said “I will make arrangements so that we can meet at a central place like the Post Office over the weekend, I need that product because ordinary charcoal is costing me a lot.”
Another Facebook user, Malawo Nchimba, called the product the reincarnation of Zinty while Moses Nkhata of Solwezi said, “When I am in Lusaka I will pass through to buy some.”
Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) said the idea sounds like a good initiative that is eco-friendly but they need to verify the procedure.
ZEMA acting corporate affairs manager Alexander Musesho said ZEMA will visit the site and verify the safety of the process.
Meanwhile, research states that natural briquettes are not only an act of friendliness towards people but also an act of friendliness towards the environment.
And Mr Mudenda says his project is also meant to empower the youth.
“This project started in December last year, I was doing it from Lusaka West, and then it dawned on me that I was using the wrong people in terms of workforce. I was working with old people who have had their chance in life and their input was not efficient,” he said.
He said he then moved to Chilanga and engaged young people in the project.
“I advertised and I engaged young people because this project is also about skills training for young people and also empowering them with an income after removing them from the street. Those that want to further their education can be given such an opportunity,” he said.
Mr Mudenda is confident that his company will grow to be very big because of the demand and the workforce which he described as vibrant.
“I keep on telling them that I won’t fire you if you don’t come for work I will come and pick you up. If you are drunk and you don’t come for work, I will pick you up and you will struggle the whole day until you are sober,” he said.
And David Nyambe, an employee of Bullford Charcoal Briquettes, says the job has helped him to stay away from vices such as alcohol drinking and also helped him earn an income.
“All the guys that I work with would have been drinking right now if it was not for this job. But we are kept busy the whole day and there is no chance to play around,” he said.