LUGAZI, Uganda — According to the International Energy Agency, 38 percent of the global population does not have access to clean cooking facilitates, while 2.6 billion people lack access to clean cooking fuel—more than 95 percent of these people are in sub-Saharan African and Asia, with 84 percent living in rural areas.
Energy poverty is a serious issue in the fight against global poverty, one that is magnified by its impact on environmental sustainability. Where people lack access to clean cooking fuel, they are forced to use biomass like wood and charcoal.
“According to the [United Nations Environment Programme], 575 million people in Africa use fuel-wood (firewood and charcoal) as the only household cooking fuel. This is almost 76 percent of the population.” The Food and Agricultural Organization of United Nations, estimates that nearly 10 million acres of forest is depleted in Africa each year—dependence on firewood and charcoal are the leading cause.
Eco-fuel Africa is attempting to stop this slow degradation of African forests by addressing its root cause, energy poverty among poor African communities.
In rural Uganda, 80 percent of people rely on firewood for fuel. As forests disappear, women and young girls have to travel farther to acquire the wood they need. This has the unfortunate impact of causing many young women to leave school because a great deal of their time is devoted to collecting firewood. Moreover, biomass fuels do not burn clean and contribute to deforestation and a host of health problems resulting from smoke inhalation.
Eco-fuel Africa is addressing this with the production of a carbon-neutral cooking fuel called Green Charcoal. This cooking fuel has the advantage of not producing smoke, burning longer than traditional biomass fuels, and costs 20 percent less than firewood.
According to Eco-fuel Africa’s Executive Summary, “we use our low-cost and tailor made technologies to create a new breed of clean energy entrepreneurs and exploit mobile phone based technologies like SMS and Mobile Money to ensure that our entrepreneurs turn our technologies into viable businesses.”
Producing and distributing Green Charcoal is a three-step process.
1. Low-cost kilns (a type of oven) are leased to rural farmers. The farmers are taught how to convert agricultural waste into charcoal powder using the kilns. The farmers then sell some of the powder back to Eco-fuel Africa, while some is retained for use as an organic fertilizer. Next, using SMS, the farmers communicate with local agents to collect the powder and receive payment via Mobile Money.
2.The charcoal powder is then compressed in Eco-fuel Africa’s tailor-made Press Machine to create clean burning fuel briquettes. The Eco-fuel Press Machine does not require electricity for operation and is simple enough in design and function that it can be “used by a 40 year old illiterate woman in rural Uganda or 17 year old former child soldier in DR Congo!”
3. Finally, Eco-fuel Africa works to deliver their product by empowering local women as distributors in their product network. All contact is managed through SMS, as is periodical mentoring advice. In this way, the women become micro-entrepreneurs contributing to the building of local economies.
Eco-fuel Africa’s innovative Green Charcoal and business model have earned the company a place in this year’s Global Social Benefit Institute Accelerator program, held at Santa Clara University from August 14-22.
Each year, the GSBI Accelerator invites and mentors a group of well-established “social enterprises”—non-profit organizations or for-profit businesses that focus on addressing social and environmental issues—to help them address challenges in their business model before showcasing their businesses to potential investors.
With the aid of the mentors and experience they gain at the GSBI Accelerator program, Eco-fuel Africa should be able to rapidly expand its network, halting deforestation and ending energy poverty in Africa.
– Pedram Afshar