With coconut being one of the major crops grown at the Coast, the amount of waste the plant generates is enormous.
In some villages, the waste has become a menace as people do not know how to dispose it. In others, residents simply burn it.
But what many villagers do not know is that they can turn the waste into an efficient and reliable source of fuel.
“Coconut waste is a good source of fuel, particularly when used to make briquettes. Briquettes made from the waste cook longer and thus help to conserve the environment,” explain Said Twahir and Ramadhan Hinzano from Kilifi County, who make briquettes from the waste and sell to tourist hotels and households.
Twahir, through his firm, Kencoco Ltd, produces about 20 tonnes of briquettes every month.
The process starts with sourcing raw materials, which include charcoal and saw dust, coconut shells and sugar cane waste. The waste is then crushed in a machine.
“Normally, I use the charcoal and carbonised coconut waste, which are mixed with molasses, wheat or cassava starch that acts as a binder”.
Thereafter, the mixture is put in an extruder machine, which compacts it to produce briquettes.
“Sometimes the coconut waste is carbonised in a drumkiln to produce char that is sold to briquettes producers. The char costs Sh10 per kilogramme.”
Once the briquettes come out of the extruder, Twahir normally dries them in the sun for three to four days.
He then packs them into 2kg and 5kg packets. For the hotels and restaurants, he sells them in 25kg and 50kg gunny bags.
Twahir has employed eight workers who operate the motorised machines that have a capacity to produce 500kg of briquettes per hour. His monthly production capacity is about 20 tonnes.
He sells the briquettes at Sh50 per kilo.
A professional accountant, Twahir, started the business last year with a capital of Sh200,000 raised from friends and family.
“I used the money to buy a manual charcoal extruder at Sh30,000. It had a production capacity of 100kg of briquettes per day, but I have upgraded to an electric machine.”
With demand of environmentally friendly fuel on the rise, Twahir says his briquette’s business has grown.
“Briquettes are far much better than firewood and charcoal because they emit less dangerous gases, which normally cause respiratory diseases,” he says.
Hinzano, who also produces the fuel and trains people on how to make it, says briquettes are 100 per cent organic and burn longer.
The entrepreneur, who runs Angaza Kenya, says briquettes can be made at home by hand using locally available material.
“Here, we rely on coconut waste because that is what we have. But a farmer can use any agricultural waste they have, for instance, from maize, beans and coffee,” he says.
“When machines are used in the manufacturing process, quality briquettes are produced and production time is reduced, but if you are not doing it for commercial purposes, you do not need machines.”
The two entrepreneur’s work attracted Global Village Energy Partnerships (GVEP), an institution that advocates for use of clean energy.
“GVEP supported me to buy a briquette’s making machine worth Sh115,000. I paid 40 per cent and they paid the remaining amount. This machine has helped me boost production,” Hinzano says.
He adds that he ensures residents know that coconut waste can transform livelihoods and alleviate poverty.
“The best quality coconut waste is the one which has a lot of shells. The more the husk, the more ash the briquettes will produce,” he says. With his wife Agnes Mramba, he produces a tonne of briquettes every month and earns about Sh50,000.
According to Hinzano, the challenge with briquettes is widening the market as most people in rural areas still use charcoal.
Maurice Onzere, a business development services coordinator with GVEP, says any farmer or person seeking to join the small-energy business can make briquettes from materials in their surroundings.
“You do not have to have a big farm to benefit from the fuel. Even a quarter an acre can produce enough waste to make briquettes,” he explains.
He adds, “Livestock farmers make biogas from animal waste, crop farmers should also make briquettes from plant waste for use at home or for commercial purposes.”
According to Onzere, farmers can make briquettes from various crop waste, which include banana and potato peels, saw dust, sugar bagasse, wheat straw, rice husks and flowers.
“Lack of awareness, technical skills, cultural beliefs and over-reliance on charcoal are among reasons farmers have not embraced the fuel.”
A manual briquette-making machine costs between Sh10,000 and Sh20,000.
While a motorised one goes for between Sh80,000 and Sh300,000. “Farmers need to embrace briquettes. They recycle agricultural waste hence better waste management. They also save energy costs thus supporting investment in agriculture.” Ash obtained from briquettes can also be used to enhance soil fertility.