BioAfriq Energy: mitigating climate change while improving students’ lives
In Kitui and Machakos, Kenya, the government imposed a ban on logging in order to protect the forests. However, as is typical in rural parts of the country, firewood is the primary source of fuel for cooking- more commonly in institutions, such as schools. To deal with the sudden absence of their main source of fuel, schools began a program in which students could bring in firewood in exchange for reduced school fees.
Doreen Achieng and James Nyamai, the brains behind BioAfriq Energy, were appalled by this approach. First and foremost, burning wood for cooking is extremely dangerous to human health, as it causes indoor air pollution which can lead to multiple respiratory diseases and even cause death. Secondly, cutting down trees to obtain fuel leads to deforestation, further contributing to climate change. They also felt that students should be learning good habits about how to protect the environment instead of spending their time fetching wood, which was a counter-productive activity.
Poultry farming leads to knowledge about clean cookstoves
Before getting into the educational space, though, these entrepreneurs were working in poultry farming. Achieng and Nyamai were having problems with the charcoal they were using to keep the chicks warm. In trying to find a solution, they ended up learning a lot about the greater challenges related to deforestation and wood cooking fuels.
Eventually, they discovered that they could make biomass pellets out of materials such as corn stalks, rice husks, and grass. Not only would that prevent the chopping down of trees, but the fact that they are carbon-neutral means they could help mitigate climate change as well.
A scholarship helps launch BioAfriq Energy
In 2016, Achieng and Nyamai got a scholarship from the Global Social Benefit Institute by the Miller Center in order to further develop their idea. Through the scholarship, they were able to participate in the Entrepreneurship for Impact Foundation (E4Impact) MBA program in Global Business Sustainability. The MBA also consisted of an incubation program in which they were provided with capacity building with a business coach and help with creating a business plan. Upon finishing the program in August 2018, they officially began operations under the name BioAfriq Energy.
In addition to biomass pellets, BioAfriq Energy produces clean gasifier cookstoves and a fruit and vegetable dehydrator to confront post-harvest losses. As such, their products tackle a variety of climate issues, addressing environmental, social and health challenges.
“Our produce drier, for instance, deals with the issue of food security. In Machakos, there is a lot of farming but also a lot of post-harvest loss. This can be due to a lack of a market for the fruits and vegetables, or if the market rate is too low, the farmers will hoard the produce until the price goes up. However, this causes huge infestations of rats and a lot of food loss,” Achieng says.
One customer of theirs, for example, uses the dehydrator to dry pumpkins and convert them into flour. The flour can be used my mothers weaning their babies, and it can be stored for much longer than raw pumpkins.
Social entrepreneurship to educate the youth on clean cooking
As their primary customers are institutions, such as schools (as well as hotels, hospitals, catering companies, etc.) they have been having many interactions with students. Nyamai and Achieng quickly found that most of the students were very intrigued by the biomass pellets and were generally unaware of many environmental issues as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Therefore, they plan on launching an SDG education program for secondary school students to begin at the end of their first term. In doing so, the students will also be able to communicate to their parents and families about sustainability issues, which can have a ripple effect into entire communities.
BioAfriq Energy joins KCIC
BioAfriq Energy joined KCIC in October 2018. So far, they have already benefited from three different trainings and have also received trainings on being investor-ready. In addition to making sure their company is in line with what investors are looking for, KCIC is helping them to set up a corporate governance board.
For 2019, Achieng and Nyamai plan to get assistance from KCIC in scaling up their business. Specifically, they are seeking to expand their production capacity from 100 kilos per hour of pellets to 500 kilos per hour. They would like to have their clean cookstoves in 100 different institutions and also create a mobile produce drier (their current one is stationary). Additionally, in 2019 they would like to start a local assembly for cookstoves in order to cut down on shipping costs to distant locations. Finally, they are seeking to realize their SDG education program for students in order to have a greater impact on the community.
By: Alise Brillault