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Fueling Kenyan schools with green fuel made from sugarcane waste

  • By Pamela Okutoyi
  • May 4, 2021

With energy generated from renewable sources predicted to be among the significant fuel sources in the coming decade, a company in Kenya is tackling the challenge head-on and turning waste into a highly prized commodity. Acacia Innovations is manufacturing a smokeless alternative to firewood to reduce deforestation and improve health and comfort.  

Their product, called Kuni Safi, which means “clean firewood” in Swahili, can reduce fuel consumption by 50 per cent. This, in turn, saves lots of money for their clients. “We supply Kuni Safi briquettes and affordable energy saving jikos to schools and small businesses. Currently, we are the largest supplier of clean cooking fuels to schools in Kenya. In addition, Kuni Safi helps customers save an average of 35 per cent of their money compared to firewood and 60 per cent compared to charcoal,” says Elana Laichena, Founder and CEO of the enterprise.

The key to this clean, green energy is the waste products from the harvest of the local sugarcane crop. The trash would previously have been left on the ground once the sugarcane is taken from the fields. Instead of letting the waste decompose and produce methane gas, Acacia Innovations collects, dries and turns it into briquettes.    

“Our Kuni Safi briquettes are made of 100 per cent sugarcane waste and are nearly smokeless. This helps keep the kitchen clean with less soot. It also reduces indoor air pollution, which leads to over 14,000 premature deaths in Kenya every year,” the renewable energy entrepreneur says.

Since the launch of the enterprise in 2016, Elana has sold Kuni Safi to over 200 schools, restaurants, hotels and hospitals in more than 20 counties across Kenya. “90 per cent of our school customers give us a second order since we also offer an innovative financing model. If a customer signs a contract to buy our Kuni Safi briquettes at a minimum of 26 sacks for over 26 weeks, we sell our cookstoves at 50 per cent off,” Elana explains.

To make modern, clean cooking affordable for schools in Kenya, the social enterprise is committed to investing a majority of its gross profits back into the business to achieve sustainability, grow its impact, and fulfil its mission.

When asked how the company can build a name for itself in the noisy marketplace, Elana is optimistic that her company has a trademark. “Acacia Innovations distinguishes itself in the market by building a national brand with guaranteed quality and reliability. It delivers on time in quantities from 1 sack to 28 tons. Moreover, it provides top-notch after-sales support, including practical training for every customer to ensure the Kuni Safi briquettes are used economically and saves customers money,” she says.

According to the enterprise, one ton of Kuni Safi is equivalent to two tons of firewood and saves up to 25 trees. “An average of 50 kilograms of Kuni Safi can be used to cook for a boarding school of 1000 pupils a whole day,” Elana explains. She further says that Kuni Safi works best for cooking, hot water heating and wood-fired electricity generation.

The journey to being the top clean energy producer for schools in Kenya has not been without its share of challenges. “Kenyans can be very resistant to change and sceptical of things they have not heard of before. It took us over a year to convince some school cooks that our products can be an improvement on charcoal or firewood,” the company CEO added. Additionally, transporting low-cost bulky goods across Kenya comes with several challenges like bad roads, heavy traffic jams and vehicle breakdowns which cost the company money.  

Kenya Climate Ventures, an independent investment management company, has offered Acacia Innovations Limited financial and technical assistance, which Elana says has led to expanding their production.

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