Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Volunteer Project in Nkhotakota

Briquettes in a charcoal stove

The adverse effects of climate change caused by deforestation are prevalent all throughout the districts of Malawi. In Ntchisi, Traditional Authority Malenga expressed concern over the cutting down of trees for firewood in the Kaphiriundika Forest Reserve which is part of the Nkhotakota Game Reserve:

“I am worried about how our forests are being destroyed…our forest will turn into a desert soon. Unfortunately, the trees are not being replaced and this might worsen the effects of climate change in our district”

Nkhotakota‘s deforestation rates as a district are ranked high in Malawi that from 1972-2009, about 595 kmof forest cover has been lost. It is for some of these reasons that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) volunteer’s project has been implementing a briquettes programme in Nkhotakota. The programme has been put in place as one of the efforts to counter deforestation and to also economically empower the local residents of Nkhotakota.

The JICA volunteer’s project which is overseen by Sachiko Hara has been in motion since the month of September in 2016.  The interesting thing about this briquettes project is that JICA and Nkhotakota Community Development Office offers minimal funding to the local inhabitants of Nkhotakota. The majority of material costs are met by the local inhabitants themselves who have invested their own money to create a briquettes business.

Sachiko Hara facilitating a briquette workshop

There are currently two groups who are currently involved in making the briquettes. One group is the Madzimatuwa Forest Group of Nkaika which is located in the southern region of Nkhotakota. The other is the Sharp Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip) of Chimbuto near the boma of Nkhotakota. Both these groups, the Madzimatuwa Forest Group and Sharp Comsip started to make briquettes in September 2016 and June 2017 respectively. The Madzimatuwa Forest Group has 40 members: 22 are women and 18 are men. The Sharp Comsip has 30 members: All of them are women.

Sharp Comsip Group

Madzimatuwa Forest Group

The JICA Volunteer’s project found Nkhotakota to be the ideal location for the briquettes programme because there is an abundant supply of agricultural waste. Nkhotakota is a rice growing district which has an abundant supply of rice husks. Moreover, due to religion beliefs, most of the inhabitants of Nkhotakota do not rear pigs which are usually fed with maize husks. Therefore maize husks are also readily available to be used in the briquette-making process.

Another reason why Jica’s Volunteer Project targeted Nkhotakota is because the district has limited support from nongovernmental organisations like other districts of Malawi. Comsip which advocates and tries to advance entrepreneurship skills amongst rural and peri-urban communities, were approached by Sachiko Hara with the business idea of making and selling briquettes in Nkhotakota.

As a business idea, the initial capital costs of this briquettes’ project is relatively low. In the initial phase of the process, all that is needed is to purchase a 200 litre oil drum. The briquettes are made from inexpensive organic material such as maize husks, wood shavings, groundnut shells, sugar cane bagasse and sweet potato peelings through the process of carbonisation. Furthermore, most of this agricultural waste can be collected from their friends and immediate neighbours for free.

On top of this, the briquette entrepreneurs do not also have to spend their funds on transport costs as their target market is within the communities of Nkhotakota.

Mixing the briquette contents in a 200 litre drum

Conversely, briquettes are being sold as an alternative to charcoal which is made by cutting down trees in an unsustainable manner. The Madzimatuwa Forest Group and the Sharp Comsip Group make briquettes which use agricultural waste materials. Ultimately, if more people in Nkhotakota were to use briquettes and not charcoal, more trees would be saved from deforestation caused by charcoal production.

However, the project has gained prominence in Nkhotakota such that Sachiko Hara has trained about 300 people in briquette making since September 2016 to August 2017. The local inhabitants of Nkhotakota usually visit Hara’s office to ask more about the briquettes business which is gradually becoming popular.

The briquettes have been sold in the markets and the many restaurants of Nkhotakota. Since 2016, the Madzimatuwa Forest Group has sold 8000 briquettes. The Sharp Comsip Group has sold about 2000 briquettes since June of 2017. The briquettes have also been sold at the One Village One Shop (OVOP) Antenna shop in Lilongwe.

Selling the briquettes at the market

The most interesting thing is that most of the money made by both groups has been used to reinvest in their business.

JICA’s Volunteer project is a good example of how local residents have taken matters in their own hands to offer their communities an alternative to charcoal. Holistically, the activities of the Sharp Comsip Group and Madzimatuwa Forest Group are feeding into the national initiatives which are being employed to fight deforestation in Malawi. At the moment, the project is hoping to expand its activities in Nkhotakota so it can have a wider impact in the communities of Nkhotakota.