Sustainable business for female entrepreneurs

Tanzanianske kvinner bruker biobriketter til matlaging på markedet

In Tanzania, Norges Vel is managing an environmental and business development project that contributes to increased profitability for women owned businesses and counteracts deforestation. Women are provided training in how to use environmental friendly and less expensive bio-briquettes rather than charcoal when they make food for sale in the markets. Through increased knowledge and improved business management, the aim is also to strengthen the women's influence in the local community.

Women play a key role in the private sector in Tanzania, and make up more than half of those working in micro, small and medium-sized businesses. Even though they run their own businesses, profitability might be low and where many women have just a minor positive margin. 

Another challenge in Tanzania is deforestation, and each year forests at the size of four times what is harvested in Norway, is disappearing, without any replanting conducted. Much of this wood goes to fuel for cooking, and it would be a good environmental measure if the need for fuel could be covered through other energy sources like, biogas or bio briquettes.

In cooperation with IMED (Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship Development), Norges Vel initiated a project for strengthening women's influence through business development and entrepreneurship (Women Economic Empowerment through Business Incubation and Entrepreneurship). The project, which ends in June 2017, is funded by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Directorate for Development in Austria, and the Directorate for International Development in the United Kingdom.

Prosjektleder Jorunn Tønnesen sammen med kvinner som lager mat på biobriketter
Project manager Jorunn Tønnesen together with Tanzanian women who make food on bio-briquettes

Direction change from biogas to biofuel

Many of the female food vendors in Tanzania are selling their food in streets and markets in Dar es Salam. In the beginning, the plan was to use waste from cooking as a raw material into the production of biogas. This gas could replace charcoal as an energy source for cooking Recycling of the waste would also serve the environment and stimulate the profitability of women's businesses.

- In practice, this model proved to be more complicated than expected, which also corresponded with the experiences from the producers of small biogas tanks. Corrective measures were therefor introduced. The project still focuses on the women and the environment, but we changed the energy source for cooking from biogas to bio briquettes, says Tønnesen.

The target group stayed the same and also the plan to strengthen women in their businesses by expanding existing businesses, and for beginners who wants to start their own sustainable business. Instead of using charcoal when cooking or grilling the food, the goal was to make the women start using environmentally friendly bio briquettes made from agricultural waste (rice, cassava, corn, grass, coconuts, etc.)  - a product which does not require logging of woods to produce charcoal.

Becoming role models and sharing knowledge

So far, 350 food vendors in eight different marketplaces have been trained in the use of bio briquettes, basic business principles, food hygiene and safety. Those who have shown special interest receive further training in the use and production of bio briquettes, as well as more information about the pros and cons of this energy source. They can then become "super-users", sales partners for the product, and be a link between briquet producers and users. The plan is that these role models and resource persons will contribute in training of other women, so that people increasingly will see and learn about the benefits of changing energy sources from charcoal to environmentally friendly bio-briquettes.

- We strongly believe that this will continue to contribute to a change of attitude and behaviour, even after the project ends. Increased knowledge regarding good alternatives to charcoal, along with policy decisions that increase the price of charcoal and transport costs, pull in the same direction, and stimulate change in behaviour. We therefore believe that these changes will contribute positively to the reduction of the deforestation and a better environment, and to reduce the women's cooking expenses since bio briquettes are less expensive than charcoal that have had a strong price increase over the last couple of years, concludes Tønnesen.

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