Eco Fuel Africa.. Biochar and Fuel from Crop Waste

December 2012

Eco-fuel Africa uses low-cost and tailor made technologies to create a new breed of clean energy entrepreneurs in Uganda and exploit mobile phone based technologies like SMS and Mobile Money to ensure that their entrepreneurs turn our technologies into viable businesses.

They plan to use their technology to create a new breed of clean energy micro-entrepreneurs in Africa through a micro-franchising model that they have successfully piloted in a town called Lugazi in Uganda.
80% of Sub-Saharan Africans depend on wood for fuel. This is a leading cause of deforestation in Africa. As forests disappear women and children (especially girls) walk arduous distances to gather wood for their families.

Therefore, many children are dropping out of school because they spend most of their time gathering wood;
Secondly, fuel-wood is very smoky and leads to indoor air pollution. Again in Africa, women and children are the most frequent victims; Also, in Sub-Saharan Africa, unemployment among youths and women is very high. In Uganda for example, unemployment among young people between 15 and 30 years of age is over 80%. Such young people turn to violence, prostitution and drug abuse. This increases the risk of armed conflict, worsens the problem of HIV/AIDS and leads to wastage of talent.
These are the problems that Eco-fuel Africa seeks to address using their low-cost, tailor-made technology and inclusive business model.
Kilns: Eco-fule Africa invented invented a low-cost kiln made out of old oil drums. These kilns are leased to rural farmers. They then teach these farmers to convert their agricultural waste into charcoal powder using these kilns. Farmers sell part of this charcoal powder to us while some is retained and used as organic fertilizers (biochar). These farmers use SMS messages to inform our local collection agents to collect this charcoal powder from their farms.

The amount of charcoal powder supplied by each farmer is recorded on our phone based data system called Carbon Keeper and these farmers are paid monthlyusing Mobile Money payment methods. We also have an SMS based training program through which they periodically send farmers tips on how to use our kilns and how to covert the charcoal powder they retain into organic fertilizers (biochar).

Eco-fuel Press Machine: Eco-fuel Africa also invented a low-cost briquetting machine called Eco-fuel Press which compresses charcoal powder bought from farmers into clean burning fuel briquettes. Eco-fuel Press doesn’t require electricity to operate and is so simple to use that it can easily be used by a 40 year old illiterate woman in rural Uganda or 17 year old former child soldier in DR Congo.

Women Distributors: To ensure that their clean burning fuel briquettes can easily be accessed, Eco-fuel Africa has created a network of women distributors. They train these women and empower them to become the local distributors in their local communities. Eco-fuel Africa teaches these women to make orders using SMS messages and to pay for new supplies using mobile money payment methods. These women therefore don’t have to come to the offices for new supplies.

Mentoring: To ensure that Eco-fuel Africa’s micro-entrepreneurs succeed, they currently use a phone based mentoring system that periodically sends business tips to the women distributors and other micro-entrepreneurs. Eco-fuel Africa also intends to develop an interactive, internet based mentoringplatform through which their micro-entrepreneurs will beable to ask questions, share experiences and learn from local and international business experts.

Success: 1,500 farmers in Uganda use Eco-fuel Africa kilns. On average, these farmers make an average
of $30/month from selling char to Eco-fuel Africa. This is triple what most farmers previously earned. These farmers have also been able to improve their soil fertility using biochar made by our kilns. Biochar has been scientifically proven to increase water retention in soils, improve soil fertility and sequester C02 by burying it in the soil where it belongs. This has enabled these farmers to increase their food harvests. Most of Eco-fuel Africa’s farmers now have enough food for their families and have some left to take to the market. This is increasing food security and improving incomes of farmers.

There are now 3,500 families in slums and rural towns in Uganda using Eco-fuel Africa green charcoal.For these families, cooking fuel no longer means smoky, expensive and inefficient wood. Green charcoal burns cleaner, burns longer and is 20% cheaper than charcoal from wood.Families that use Eco-fuel Africa green charcoal save an average of $200/year. They also don’t have toworry about indoor air pollution, their children stay in school and women have enough time toengage in productive activities like digging and doing business;

This project has also already created 100 new women entrepreneurs (distributors). Eco-fuel Africa works with poor local women to sell our green charcoal in energy poor communities. They go to slumsand villages, identify local women, train them and empower them to become distributors of green charcoal in their communities. Eco-fuel Africa’s women entrepreneurs earn an average of $5/day orabout $1825/year. Now, these are women that previously had no marketable skills and had no other source of income. This is changing lives and empowering communities.

Eco-fuel Africa also uses part of their proceeds to replant trees. They funded the formation of a club called “FOR TREES” which works with local schools and communities to replant trees. They make an annual tax deductible donation to this club to enable it keep planting trees. FOR TREES has already
planted 10,000 trees in Uganda and as Eco-fuel Africa expands and becomes more profitable, they will enable FOR TREES to plant even more trees.

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