Alfred Chisale: Malawi’s Cleaner Cookstove Entrepreneur

Alfred Chisale standing in front of his kiln

It was in 2012 when Alfred Chisale was encouraged by some nongovernmental organisations such as Clioma to take up the business of stove-making. Five years have passed since Alfred made the decision to give up his profession of brick-laying to become a clay stove-maker. As a brick-layer Alfred used to struggle to support his family, but today he has blossomed into a savvy entrepreneur in the cookstove sector.

The salary I used to earn as a brick-layer was just not enough for me and my family. I was constantly looking for jobs because I would only be contracted for short periods of time to work on building projects. Life was tough as a brick-layer”.

Indeed life was tough working as a brick-layer because Alfred was always looking for jobs when building contracts ended. Without a steady income, Alfred chose to pursue his luck in the cleaner cookstove industry.

In 2011, after travelling to Mulanje, Alfred visited some production groups who specialised in moulding the “chitetezo mbaula”, a clay stove which is classified as a fuel-efficient stove. It was this trip that changed Alfred’s perspective on life that when he got back home in Lilongwe, he started making plans to become self-employed.

In 2012 Alfred made the decision to ditch his job as a Building Supervisor to venture into the stove-making industry. When Alfred was first introduced to clay stove-making, he had no idea how to turn clay into a marketable stove called the “chitetezo mbaula”. He did not know how to differentiate what good and bad clay is. To put it simply, Alfred risked it all to start a business which he had no clue about.

However, Alfred honed his knowledge and skills when he visited a stove-making group in Balaka which was under United Purpose’s (formerly known as Concern Universal) guidance. During this visit he learned the art of stove-making that when he went back home, he identified a piece of land with good clay at Chadza in Lilongwe.

Alfred Chisale

Alfred’s start in the stove-making business got off on a shaky start as any novice who makes the bold decision to pursue the dream of self-employment. His business plan was to make stoves and to sell to NGOs. This plan was met with challenges because he was unable to tap into the market and most of the times, he would have hundreds of stoves in storage without any potential buyers.

However, in November 2012, Alfred struck an agreement to supply the MAEVE project (supported by Energising Development) with the bulk of his cookstoves.

In the beginning, Alfred used to hire pick-up-trucks and lorries to ferry clay to his place of business at Kauma in Lilongwe. As time went by, Alfred realised that he was losing a lot of money to ferry clay from other areas to his place of business.

In light of the costs and logistical challenges, after saving money, Alfred made the decision to buy a 3-acre plot of land at Chadza in Lilongwe. Currently on this 3-acre plot of land, Alfred has built infrastructure which enables him to make stoves all year round even during the rainy season. He has even managed to buy two trucks (2 tonnes) which ferry wood and clay from nearby areas to his place of business. Ultimately, Alfred has been able to cut costs by buying his own vehicles and land, which has overtime saved him unnecessary costs which accrued on a monthly basis.

Since 2012, Alfred’s business has grown exponentially that he is now an employer who employs 28 people. In 2014 due to the massive gains he was making, he registered his business under the name of “Dziwani Investments”. Alfred has since then thrived that he strongly states that “he does not ever think of being employed by someone” because the stove-making business provides everything he needs in his life.

Apart from being able to pay school fees for his children, Alfred has also been able to pay for his own fees in a number of courses he has attended. Some of these courses are in project management, water sanitation and designing of low cost technologies which have in turn proved essential in the day to day running of

Alfred Chisale’s latest innovation which has an inner shell made of clay which is encapsulated with a metal outer shell-

his business.

The stove-making business has offered Alfred with so many opportunities that he has been able to travel to other countries. In 2014, Alfred was invited to train other stove-making groups in Zambia through an organisation called Self Help Africa Zambia. Through Clioma, he signed a 2-year contract to share his experiences and most importantly, to show them how to construct a quality clay-stove.

In 2016, he was awarded a scholarship to the Stove-Plus Academy in Sierra Leone where he went for a week, to meet other cleaner cookstove entrepreneurs to discuss their varied experiences in the cookstove sector.

The entrepreneurial spirit in Alfred has encouraged him to make plans to open another plant in the Northern Region of Malawi between the month of August and October of 2017. Since most stove production groups are based in the Central and Southern Regions of Malawi, Alfred saw a business opportunity to open another branch of Dziwani Investments in the Northern Region. In preparation of his next business endeavour, he has already made the preliminary tests of clay at Ekwendeni and has also bought 10 paddle moulds. What is remaining is to train his employees in the art of stove-making which should start very soon.

Alfred Chisale is a man who turned clay into a profitable business which has transformed his and the lives of others around him. He is part of a network of NGO’s and cookstove producers who are striving to reach the government’s target to disseminate 2 million cookstoves by the year 2020. Alfred is a man who was once an employee without job security,  but through sheer determination and hard work,  he has managed to become Malawi’s cleaner cookstove entrepreneur.