Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Emerging green projects promise huge returns for investors

 

By MUTHOKI MUMO mmumo@ke.nationmedia.com

A project to clean up her Nakuru neighbourhood is promising to turn 18-year-old Diana Kerubo Mong’are into a successful entrepreneur.

In February this year, a few months after completing secondary school, Ms Mong’are launched Planet Green project. The Strathmore University student persuaded her neighbours to start recycling their plastics and paper and she gave local carpenters incentives to stop burning sawdust. She has also helped nurture environmental clubs in two primary schools.

Barely four months after Planet Green burst into life, Ms Mong’are caught the eye of international investors, bagging a Sh1.6 million award to grow the project into a booming business.

Her idea places her among a growing group of entrepreneurs in the world with a conscience for the environment — green entrepreneurs. She believes that one can make money without destroying mother nature.

“I want to earn enough money to sustain myself. If I cannot make this money while giving back to the society and environment, I do not see the purpose of it all,” she said.

Ms Mong’are said the environmental impact of her project was instrumental in earning her the first runner’s up position at the recent Anzisha Prize awards in South Africa.

To back up her assertion, she says the top prize went to an environmentally conscientious entrepreneur — Uganda’s Andrew Mupaya. He received Sh2.52 million for his biodegradable paper bag business, which was started after the manufacture of polythene bags was banned in Uganda. Investors are eager to pour money into green projects.

Ms Mong’are is not alone. In Gathara Village, Nyandarua County, farmers grow crops on near-vertical slopes. The area is a key catchment for Lake Naivasha. The effects of poor farming methods have emerged over the past decade as water flow into the lake has dropped.

To check this, 385 farmers on the slopes of the Aberdares are being paid to conserve their land and implement green farming techniques. Under the Payment for Ecosystem Services programme facilitated by the local Water Resource Users Association and the World Wide Fund for Nature, flower growers in Naivasha give upstream farmers incentives to conserve their land.

Coming in the form of vouchers, farmers use the incentives to buy animal feeds, fertilisers, and pesticides. Ms Margaret Wanjiru Mundia, a small-scale farmer, has been part of the programme since 2010. She said that she saves Sh4,000 a month on animal feeds, pesticides, and mineral supplements. According to the National Environment Trust Fund (NETFUND), such projects have indirect benefits for farmers.

“Communities that have embraced sustainable land management practices have found them even more beneficial, in terms of increasing farm productivity, than the incentives received from downstream water users,” said NETFUND CEO Catherine Ndegwa.

As a result, Ms Mundia has seen her milk production more than triple due to better farming methods. Before the project, she used to sell an average of 10 litres of milk a day, earning Sh3,000 a month. Now, she earns Sh18,000 and plans to invest in biogas production.

“My grandchildren will be educated with this money. They no longer miss school. I want to see them go to university,” the mother-of-two told Money.

In 2011, during the Business Daily-sponsored entrepreneurial contest, The Next Big Thing, green entrepreneurs scooped more than 50 per cent of the top 10 positions, putting them at a vantage position to attract investors. A 2011 report on entrepreneurship by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development notes that investments made by governments and large corporations in the aftermath of the 2008 global economic crisis have tended to favour environment-friendly projects run by smaller enterprises as well as individuals.

The going is not easy, as Ms Mong’are found out when she set out to educate her neighbourhood about separating recyclable and non-recyclable waste. Some people insisted on disposing of their garbage at a nearby dump site.

“I had to ask the watchmen to guard the dump site at night. Otherwise, people would still throw their garbage there because it was the easy way out,” she says.

Through persistence, Green Planet now serves 50 households. It also sells sawdust to chicken farmers. Ms Mong’are plans to help chicken farmers find a market for the sawdust as manure.

Further afield, Mr Hitesh Mehta, an architect based in Florida, is more seasoned than Ms Mong’are in green entrepreneurship. He found a way to merge his profession with his passion for nature by specialising in eco-architecture.

Mr Mehta cut his teeth in Nairobi in 1990 when he started Hitesh Mehta Designs as a traditional architecture practice. Over the years, the practice has grown to become a pioneer in the field of eco-architecture.

Hitesh Mehta Designs has a portfolio of clients from across the globe. He has designed eco-lodges and residential homes across the world including India, China, Turkey, and here in Kenya. “When I started this, very few people knew what I was trying to do. However, people have grown more conscientious of the environment and there is demand for green services and products,” he said.

While Ms Mong’are and Mr Mehta’s business models are working exceptionally well for them, Kenyans from other walks of life too have a chance to ride the green wave to make and save money through emission trading initiatives.

Under this system, companies that produce harmful greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide offset these by paying or funding projects that lower harmful emissions into the atmosphere.

In such arrangements, a manufacturer could end up paying small-scale farmers to plant trees that would, in turn, help reduce carbon emissions in the environment. There have been several such projects in Kenya, but most have met challenges due to lack of a legislative framework.

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