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Meet The African Green Entrepreneurs Showing The West How It’s Done

From solar smart meters to low-impact beekeeping, a new generation of African entrepreneurs are using their ingenuity to bring equitable, climate-friendly solutions to some of the most disadvantaged communities.

As many as eight out of the 10 nations most at risk from climate change are in Africa. So, as wealthy western nations congratulate themselves for their climate leadership whilst deliberately undermining global climate action, innovators in some of the world’s least developed countries are taking matters into their own hands.

I spoke to five of the pioneers behind five award-winning sustainability startups across the African continent. Each project is a winner of the SEED Awards, supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU) and the Government of Flanders. Founded by the UN and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the awards recognize sustainable schemes across the global south, with winners receiving grants of between around $11,000 to $17,000, as well as customized support packages to take them beyond the start-up stage and scale their businesses for positive environmental, social and economic benefits.

SEED says every enterprise it has helped saves an average of 7,300 tonnes of CO2, generates more than 9,399 kilowatt hours of renewable energy, and has created more than 28 jobs.

Sustainable Buzz

Zambia, in central Africa, is home to a form of traditional beekeeping in which hives are built from bark from the slow-growing miombo tree. So prevalent is the practice that almost 7.5 million of the trees are being felled every year, leading to biodiversity loss, soil erosion and negative impacts on local agriculture and the economy.

That’s where Harry Malichi comes in. His company, Wuchi Wami, trains farmers in sustainable beekeeping and provides sustainable beehives made from pine, which is easy to plant and grows quickly.

“Unsustainable traditional beekeeping has been a way of life for most of my local people in Mwinilunga [northwest Zambia],” Malichi, 30, says. “Many of my schoolmates who dropped out of school due to a lack of financial support resorted to early marriage and traditional beekeeping.”

It takes the destruction of three miombo trees to build one hive in conventional Zambian beekeeping. With more than 25,000 beekeepers in his region with an average of 100 bark hives each, that’s a huge strain on local ecosystems. Malachi says that sustainable beekeeping, conversely, creates sustainable livelihoods.

“It brings social inclusiveness because, as it’s less labor-intensive, women, young people and the elderly are able to practice it. Traditional bee farming is labour intensive and can only be done by strong men,” he explains.

Wuchi Wami then markets and distributes the raw and organic honey produced by a cooperative of 2,500 beekeepers.

Now, the company is ready to go international. “Winning this award means that our eco-inclusive enterprise will scale up our work to promote equality, social inclusiveness and preserve the environment,” Malichi says. “We hope through these platforms that international buyers will partner with us to sell our organic honey and wax, which will continue to give us the much needed financial capacity to empower more farmers.”

Waste Not, Want Not

“When I think of sustainable waste management in Ghana, one question comes to mind: how do we apply general scientific and entrepreneurial principles to new ideas to create a sustainable, home-grown solution?” So asks Bernadette Dzifa Agbefu, operator of Ghana’s JVL-YKMA Recycling Plant.

The plant takes some of the smelliest stuff in the world—organic and human waste—and turns it into products that can help farmers and families—namely, compost and biofuel briquettes. Going into operation in 2020, the public-private venture is already capable of processing 1,800 tonnes of organic solid waste and 5,000 cubic meters of fecal sludge per year. These are used to produce some 200 tons of compost and 1,000 tons of fuel briquettes.

Agbefu was a student when she learned during an internship that the country’s waste treatment systems were struggling to manage the volume of organic and human waste being produced. “My father had encouraged me to study civil engineering, but until then I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do with it,” says Agbefu, now 29. “When I learned there was a whole branch of civil engineering that allowed you to specialize in waste management and water resources, I felt really motivated to study more. And I realized I could use sustainability principles to solve a local problem.”

The plant provides a win-win for the Yilo Krobo municipality, in which it is based. As well as providing better sanitation for residents, it offers additional jobs and skills training, and reduces local dependence on wood and charcoal, alleviating the burden on the forests, and reducing carbon emissions.

Winning the SEED award, Agbefu says, will enable the plant to rapidly increase capacity. “We’re very happy that winning the award has allowed us to showcase the work we’ve been doing,” she says. With the award money, her team will upgrade the facilities, installing electrical circuits so a night shift can be added to expand production.

Looking ahead, Agbefu hopes the plant’s success can be replicated all around Ghana. “This is just a small plant, serving the needs of our local community. But it’s not about having one huge facility: you could have several of these small facilities, dotted around the country, dealing not just with organic waste and sludge, but also plastic,” she says. “Then, you’re really closing the loop on waste management, sustainably.”

Power To The People

In Uganda, electrical engineer Philip Kyeswa has developed a smart meter to help small green energy firms develop their business in the country’s most remote regions. His firm, Peec Energy, supplies the meters to mini grid developers who are installing solar systems that aren’t connected to the grid, enabling the companies to remotely monitor their systems and collect bill payments hassle-free.

“After university my brother and I became solar entrepreneurs, installing mini-grids,” Kyeswa, 28, says. “We quickly found that the high up-front cost of solar developments were a problem for many rural communities, so we looked for a smart metering solution that could allow smart metering and prepayment.”

As it turned out, no affordable solution was available in Uganda, so Kyeswa decided to develop his own.

“We sensed a huge opportunity in this, so we started to design hardware that helps solar installers drive down costs,” he says. “Our technology helps energy companies to commit to these communities, because it means their assets are secured.” While that might not sound so glamorous, Peec Energy’s innovations are helping to accelerate rural electrification in Uganda, and have so far helped bring clean energy to at least 3,800 households, delivering power to more than 16,000 people. The company also provides women and young people with solar and biogas training and certification.

Peec Energy has so far helped install about 10,000 kilowatt hours of solar energy systems, enabling others to start their own businesses in areas that were formerly off the grid. Yet Kyeswa says this is just the beginning. “We expect to reach maybe 50,000 households over the next five years, impacting quarter of a million people in Uganda alone,” he explains. Beyond that, Peec Energy hopes to build its own research and development lab, and expand outside Uganda to Rwanda and Congo, reaching up to 500,000 households and impacting more than 1 million people.

Plastic Economy

The build up of plastic waste is now a global environmental crisis affecting every ecosystem and every country. In South Africa, startup Regenize rewards residents for collecting recyclable materials with a virtual currency that can be used to buy phone airtime, data, or grocery vouchers.

“South Africa’s waste situation is similar to its wealth gap situation,” says Regenize founder Chad Robertson. “At one end of the spectrum, 34% of citizens do not have regular waste collection services. At the other end, government recycling collection services are only available in upper-income communities.”

This disparity, the 28-year-old Robertson says, means only 7.5% of South Africans recycle their plastic. Yet paradoxically, the country recycles a relatively large proportion of its plastic overall. “That’s primarily thanks to informal waste workers, known as waste pickers or reclaimers,” Robertson says. “They collect up to 90% of all the paper and packaging waste we recycle as a country. Yet, they work in dangerous and undignified conditions, going through refuse bins or landfills to retrieve recyclables.”

To encourage more residents to be proactive about recycling, Regenize rewards people with its own digital currency called Remali, which can be used to buy airtime, data or grocery vouchers, in exchange for recycled materials.

“Our free collection model is focused on low-income communities that generally do not have access to recycling collection services,” Robertson says. “We also partner with waste pickers and integrate them into our model.” Regenize provides the collectors with uniforms and recycling tricycles, and has set up recycling hubs where the waste can be sorted. Regenize also helps get the collectors bank cards, provides training in technology and customer service, and gives them access to personal protective equipment and micro-loans.

Robertson is now campaigning to have difficult-to-recycle plastic banned, which he believes will increase the rate of plastic recycling. “Banning the difficult-to-recycle items over the next five years, along with more households separating their recyclables, will result in the plastic recycling rate reaching 70%-80%,” he says.

(Bio)Fuelling The Dream

Inspired by his childhood dream of running an organic farm, Clement Kandodo studied crop and soil science at Malawi’s Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources. But by the time he had graduated, Kandodo’s plans had changed. Instead of going into farming, he founded EcoGen, Malawi’s leading biogas energy company.

“The idea of starting EcoGen started when I was at university. I learnt that you can produce gas and fertiliser from waste which you can use for cooking and farming,” Kandodo says. “Back then, in my home village, my mother was spending a lot of time walking long distances collecting firewood—time she could have spent doing other, more productive things.”

Kandodo, 27, says more than 96% of Malawians use unsustainable wood fuel and charcoal for cooking, exerting pressure on the natural environment and leading to soil degradation, climate shocks and low farm productivity. “Furthermore, women and children spend approximately six hours a day collecting wood or other fuel and preparing food for their families,” he adds.

Kandodo started out by applying for funding through International Conservation and Cleanup Management (ICCM) a local NGO. He pitched his idea and he was given $100 dollars to develop his prototype for a biogas bin system that could convert organic waste into renewable cooking gas and organic fertilizer. He then used his prototype to raise further funds through prizes and small grants.

“Since then we have raised over $150,000 to expand our effort to provide life changing solutions to many people in Malawi,” he says. The company has won at least nine awards, including an innovation award from the government of Malawi. At the time of writing, EcoGen had installed more than 80 biogas systems, giving 3,000 people access to cooking energy, as well as fertilizer for crops. Kandodo says his innovation saves each family about $450 per year on energy costs—no small amount in a nation where a typical year’s salary comes in at around $6,640.

Kandodo says while the SEED award helped put his company on course, the real credit belongs to his team. “This is no small achievement,” he says. “We have tirelessly worked together for years to offer the best for our people and the planet.”

Source: https://www.forbes.com/

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