Youth Group's briquette-making venture creates sparks in Wakitaka village

By Guest BloggerPosted on December 14, 2011Comments: (13)

Blog post by Kirsti Shields

Six months after landing a prestigious grant to implement a revolutionary cooking technology that uses local-generated waste to make clean-burning fuel briquettes, Emmanuel Menya, Wakitaka village local representative, reports on the Cook Clean and Save the Environment (CCASTE) Program’s vital signs. “We’ve had a lot of successes,” he notes. “And we’ve learned a lot. It’s an evolving process.”

At the heart of the CCASTE program are the area’s youth. “Our young people needed to learn business, leadership and entrepreneurial skills,” Menya explains. “As they go through the CCASTE Program training we teach them important sales and marketing skills. They learn the importance of innovation. Those that go on to start their own business can apply their skills to real-life business solutions that benefit their local community.”

During the first six months of the program, interest has been strong. As of November 2011, forty youth have graduated from the first training program. Three have already started running their own briquette manufacturing enterprise. Almost twenty more have used their new business skills to start a variety of other innovative ventures, diversifying, and at the same time feeding, the local economy.

During the first six months of the program, the number of program beneficiaries has increased three-fold from thirty to ninety. “Before the Cook Clean and Save the Environment Project none of our youth had access to this kind of training,” Menya explains. “Now they’re learning to generate and implement their own business ideas. It’s very exciting.” Enrollment in the next wave of trainings is expected to be high. A visit to an established – and very successful – briquette-manufacturing facility in Kampala attracted a large turnout, and ten local youth have already been trained as “trainers of new trainers,” increasing the program’s potential to teach new trainees.

Interest in using the new fuel is high too. In the last six months CCASTE educators conducted awareness campaigns to educate local residents about the health, economic and ecological benefits of switching to the new technology. Despite patchy turn-out due to poor weather and conflicting local events, over three hundred individuals attended the two sessions.
The biggest challenge, according to Menya, is that at the moment demand for the new briquettes far outstrips supply.

“An overwhelming number of youth are interested in starting up briquette-making ventures” Menya explains, “but for most youth the high cost of the manufacturing technology remains prohibitive.” Part of the problem is that local youth lack a strong saving culture. According to an extensive baseline survey conducted during this first phase of the project, almost 60% of local youth serve as head of household. For these youth, family responsibilities restrict the amount of money they have available to save. But even among youth with fewer obligations, Menya points out, saving habits are poor.

To promote good saving habits and build a reservoir of funds for the community to draw on, CCASTE ran a series of training and education sessions focusing on how to save and use credit facilities responsibly. Early results are encouraging. In the first six months, ten youth bought into the Youth Group’s newly-created revolving Savings Program.

With the CCASTE program up and running and people lining up to make – and use – the new briquettes, the future for Wakitaka’s youth looks bright. Two years ago, the majority of the village’s youth were looking at a very different kind of future. Now, armed with key entrepreneurial skills and access to a ripening communal savings fund, they have the chance to pursue their business dreams. Those aren’t the only gains. Thanks to the cleaner-burning and ecologically-sound new fuel, the village’s physical landscape – its kitchens and woodlands – will be healthier.

“It’s been an encouraging first six months, but there’s a long way to go,” Menya cautions. “We need to increase the Wakitaka Youth Group’s resources so that we can support more youth. We need to instill a stronger savings culture in our youth and encourage entrepreneurs to invest in and access the community saving fund. We need to bring supply in line with demand.”

Menya may be right - there may still be a long way to go. But right now – thanks to Menya’s Cook Clean and Save the Environment Program - a new future is being built in Wakitaka village.

One briquette at a time.