Kenyatta University Economics graduate George Ngari says his search for a job ended when he got tips on how to make clean ‘charcoal’ from sawdust and wheat straws.
He is making briquettes used for cooking in Narok where he was born and sells to individuals and corporate bodies, earning more than Sh100,00 a month.
He got the idea on Internet in an article written by a retired soldier and also benefited from a documentary on a step-by-step demo on making briquette extruders.
He sells more than 200 sacks for between Sh500 and Sh800.
“I sell 50kg bag of charcoal at Sh500 in wholesale, but I also sell a 2kg container at Sh20 to people who cannot afford to buy a full sack,” said Mr Ngari. A sack goes for Sh800 in retail.
He is expecting huge sales in the next three months when the government ban on logging to save forests will be in place.
In 2016, up to 82 per cent of Kenyans depended on charcoal for energy demands — 17 per cent of these relied on charcoal entirely, according to the Economic Survey.
People from far and Narok town residents are the customers of the 26-year-old graduate.
Apart from more than 60,000 Narok town residents, half of whom use charcoal to cook, he has also attracted wholesale clients from eco-friendly lodges and camps in the world-famous Maasai Mara game reserve and conservancies.
“Among my clients are the Sawela Lodge in Naivasha, Sarova Hotels, and hotels in Nairobi and Nakuru,” said Mr Ngari, who says he looked for employment for two years from 2012 when he graduated from KU to no avail.
His “top clients” are drawn from Narok’s Majengo slums — where he was born and brought up — and “big population” of university students who buy between two-kilogramme containers and a sack.
His leaning towards the eco-friendly charcoal has earned him the partnership of National Environmental Trust Fund that trains him and also finances his national and international exhibitions on environmental conservation.
“My charcoal does not require cutting down of trees and, therefore, is not a threat to our forests and other water catchment areas. It is also odourless and does not produce smoke,” says Mr Ngari.
The last born in a family of four, he makes the briquettes from mixing charcoal dust with molasses and water or sawdust, wheat straws or any biomass waste.
A mixture is poured into an extruder that produces the short, black wet rods resembling coal.
They are left to dry in the sun for between three and five days. You can also use a solar drier.
“Afterwards, we break them into smaller pieces that can be packaged in 50kg bags” he said.
He started with a manual briquette-making machine, which he acquired from a workshop of a former Air Force man in Nyeri at Sh150,000, which was a commercial bank loan.
In 2016, he upgraded and imported an electric machine at Sh500,000; he has three operated by 10 employees. He spends Sh3,000 monthly on electricity to run the machines.
Married, Mr Ngari says he is focused on growing the business and not looking for employment in another firm.
He has three permanent workers, but hires four others on contract daily at Sh400.
This article was first published in the Business Daily.