Betty Ikalany impressed us from day one when she contacted us to inform us she wished to start her a briquette-making industry targeting some of Uganda’s most vulnerable populations: women carrying the HIV/AIDS virus and the young unwed mothers that are often ostracized by society.
A year on, we are happy to report on Betty’s inspiring story.
— The Charcoal Project
By Joe Gurowsky
Briquettes as the Triple Bottom Line
Betty Ikalany, a Ugandan social worker and entrepreneur, believes her budding community-based, fuel briquette-making enterprise can generate income and also help families save money, especially the single mothers and women struggling with HIV/AIDS.
An additional but important benefit is that fuel briquettes reduce demand for unsustainably harvested wood and charcoal.
A third goal is to reduce the indoor air pollution (woodsmoke) that is common when people use charcoal or firewood in traditional cookstoves. (Indoor air pollution from the incomplete combustion of wood and charcoal using traditional cookstoves results in about 2 million deaths annually worldwide.)
For Betty, briquettes are clearly the triple bottom line approach to solving multiple problems. “Fuel briquettes are a no-brainer. They provide income, protect the environment, and improve public health. What is there not to like?,” she asks.
Fire in her belly
In Uganda, especially in rural areas where communities cannot afford to buy propane gas or electricity, cooking is associatd with long hours spent collecting increasingly scarce wood. “The diminishing wood fuel supplies and the increasing prices of both firewood and charcoal make it difficult for some households to cook more than one meal a day,” says Betty.
She believes charcoal briquettes can help bridge the gap. The briquettes are made using simple, technologies available in communities. The feedstock for the fuel comes from discarded agricultural residues, sawdust, and from other biomass that is readily available nearby but is presently going to waste.
The Price of Energy Poverty
Currently, the price of a 100kg bag of charcoal in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, hovers between 50,000 to 70,000 Uganda shillings (20-30 USD), In rural areas, the same charcoal can be bought for about 30,000 to 45,000 Uganda shillings (13 -18 USD). On average, it is estimated that a family requires about one kilogram of charcoal per person per day to cook a meal.
Charcoal briquettes, however, when sold in the local markets sell for 500 Uganda shillings (0.20 USD) a kilogram. But in Kampala, they are now being sold for 1,500 Uganda shillings (0.60 USD) when packaged and sold in supermarkets.
To encourage adoption of charcoal briquettes for cooking, Betty is selling almost three kilograms for 1,000 Uganda shillings (0.40 USD). She hopes to package the briquettes once they are able to be produced on a large scale and sell them to supermarkets, schools, restaurants and in the local urban market areas.
A Real Problem for Real People
The Soroti district and Teso region are areas in particular need of production of charcoal briquettes and energy saving stoves due to the scarcity of firewood and trees for charcoal-making. In the past, community members could easily collect firewood, but today community members are reluctant to share their dwindling resources due to the scarcity and escalating prices.
Trained as a social worker, Betty is eager to include women in the briquette-making enterprise. She believes the income-generating potential offered by briquette-making will empower women by making them more economically independent.
She specifically targets women living with HIV/AIDS and girls dropping out of school due to pregnancy because these two groups usually suffer greatly from stigma and discrimination in the community, which impedes their ability to provide a living for themselves.
Betty hopes to help all women to acquire the knowledge to make charcoal briquettes. Despite her focus on vulnerable women, Betty believes positive outcomes are also possible in households headed by men. “Women can help us reach the men who are strong decision makers in the family,” she says.
The Challenges of Entrepreneurship
Mrs. Ikalany says her biggest challenge is not having the appropriate briquette-making machines. As a result, she is presently obliged to mold the briquettes by hand. Such a challenge clearly slows productivity and does not enable her to produce the briquettes on a scale large enough to acquire sufficient financial capital.
In addition, getting paper to be used as a binder has proved difficult. After receiving complaints about the cow dung she used as an alternative, she is now using cassava flour as a binder.
Transporting the briquettes to market remains a problem as well. Betty and briquette-making ladies must rely on hiring bicycles or carry the briquettes on their heads.
Despite the challenges, Betty cites her greatest success as managing to convince people in the neighborhoods and in the markets that charcoal briquettes are cheaper, cleaner and efficient.
She is also enthusiastic about being able to attract young women and some boys to work with her. Betty looks forward for continued momentum and spreading charcoal briquettes and sustainable development throughout Uganda.
In the medium and long run, Betty’s goal is to expand the program across the Soroti and Teso regions. Her biggest dream? To see her project replicated in other communities.
Betty Ikalany in her own words:
“I would like to gain training on how to make charcoal kilns. I would also like to obtain financial support in order to acquire some manual extruders (a type of briquette-making device) for training the community groups and a motorized screw char extruder (another type of briquette-making device) to help me produce larger quantities of briquettes.
We could also use financial and technical support to develop energy saving stoves. Lastly, we want to engage in tree planting to replace the forest that’s been cut down for fuel. But we need training on fast growing species and information of how we can get seeds. We aim to work with schools to have wood slots in every school and with local community members.
If you are interested in supporting Betty, please contact Sylvia Herzog at email@example.com