Eco-friendly charcoal to reduce deforestation

Cameroon: Eco-friendly charcoal to reduce deforestation (InfoCongo)

Muller Tankeu Nandou is determined to reduce the pressure on the beautiful mangrove forests in Cameroon. The entrepreneur has a Master’s degree in ecology, biodiversity, and the environment, and completed his research in the Bois des Singes, near Douala.

The Bois des Singes is an important source of firewood for many Cameroonians. But the overuse—and often illegal use—of the forest is threatening its survival. Half the forest has been cut in the past 20 years.

Three years ago, Mr. Nandou was inspired by a visit to his grandparents’ house. He says: “I saw that, to cook meals, my grandparents used household waste such as maize husks, banana peels, or sugar cane peel. After conducting research, I discovered that other countries were producing charcoal from household waste. So I decided to create Kemit Ecology to make eco-friendly charcoal.”

Kemit Ecology produces and sells 100% eco-friendly charcoal, made from biodegradeable household waste. The goal is to replace the demand for firewood.

The company collects household waste from homes, markets, and the streets. The material is sorted, dried, and then compacted to make the charcoal.

Daniel Toksia is the manager of quality, health, and safety, and is responsible for improving the product. He explains, “The first coals we produced, for example, customers complained they were crumbling…. [but] now our coals no longer crumble as at first.”

The team has considerably expanded production. In 2014, they manually produced 12 tonnes of charcoal. Now, they have machinery and a factory, and, by 2016, had increased to 37 tonnes produced and sold. One tonne of eco-friendly charcoal represents 25 forty-kilogram bags. The company estimates that they have produced 1,825 bags of charcoal in an eco-friendly way.

Their charcoal is attracting buyers. Didi is a mother of five who lives in the Bois des Singes district of Douala. She says: “My daughter introduced me to eco-friendly charcoal and I adopted it. I consume three kilograms of eco-friendly charcoal each week…. Cooking is fast. In addition, it does not smoke and does not blacken the pot.”

Berlise lives in Douala and has been selling eco-friendly charcoal for eight years. She started by selling two 40-kilogram bags, but can now sell eight bags a month. She says seven out of 10 customers are choosing to buy environmentally-friendly charcoal.

The company’s biggest challenge is finding enough raw materials to increase production. The company uses household garbage, but some people want the company to pay to collect it. Some city trash collectors are not happy to see Kemit Ecology employees around waste bins.

So Mr. Nandou and his team are building partnerships. They have recruited housewives in more than 100 neighbourhoods to contribute waste materials. Ernest Benelesse is the head of production. He explains, “We give bags to the housewives and ask them to put only banana and plantain skins in them. Two or three days later, we pick up the waste.”

They have also partnered with shopkeepers in some markets in the city. Fruit vendors are peeling bananas and plantains, and collecting the skins for Kemit Ecology.

Two collectors travel the city streets on a three-wheeled bike pulling a cart, looking for maize waste and sugar cane peelings. They also collect rattan residues from artisans who make furniture.

The project was recognized at the COP22 Climate Change conference in Morocco in November 2016, winning the Young Green Entrepreneur category of the Climate Initiatives award.

Annual consumption of charcoal exceeded 300,000 tonnes in 2016 in Cameroon. To meet the need, many forests are being cut down. Mr. Nandou estimates his company can hold two to three per cent of the market in 2017.

The company is running at a deficit, so, according to Mr. Nandou, it needs to grow. He is looking towards the future. He says, “For us, the urgency is to provide a solution to the vulnerable populations who settle in the mangrove areas.”