Moza Ahmed stumbled across briquettes by chance as she dropped her child off at a boarding school in Busia county. Out of curiosity, she approached the handlers of the peculiar looking charcoal which she was told was called a briquette and made of sugar waste. When Moza returned to her home in Mombasa, she identified a briquette producer in Kilifi county who offered to show her how to make high quality briquettes. This meeting led to her launching her company, Briq-o-blaze.
Recognizing the critical role that renewable energy plays in climate change adaptation, MEDA has partnered with The Charcoal Project (TCP) and the United Briquettes Producers Association (UBPA) of Kenya to support briquette entrepreneurs like Moza to grow their businesses. TCP’s mission is to support solid biomass fuel entrepreneurs to produce improved biomass fuels. This project will have a direct positive impact on the environment and the economic wellbeing of communities who depend on traditional biomass fuel for their daily cooking and heating needs.
Through MEDA’s M-SAWA project, funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC), TCP is providing 15-20 alternative fuel producer (50% women led) enterprises with training, mentorship, financial support, technical support, online resources, and access to a network of entrepreneurs. As a result, this project will generate a positive economic and environmental impact by displacing the use of traditional wood charcoal.
Moza was introduced to UBPA in 2019 and in February 2021, Briq-o-blaze joined the lean marketing program facilitated by TCP. The program focused on establishing new selling structures that would improve sales. This activity included gathering information on hotel and household preferences related to satisfying their energy needs. A major finding was that customers frequently complain about smoke produced from firewood and charcoal. In order to leverage this market demand for cleaner energy products, Briq-o-blaze gave out free samples to customers. The feedback was extremely positive with the briquettes marketed as “smokeless” and sold at a comparable price to other conventional sources of energy (charcoal and kerosene), driving a change in perception.
Moza now feels more knowledgeable about how wood and charcoal negatively affect consumer health as well as the environment, and can more effectively engage with customers to promote the benefits of her product. Briq-o-blaze is working to organize household demonstrations on the benefits of briquettes and its energy saving potential, thanks to lean marketing. To help support this gradual behavior change, Briq-o-blaze plans to educate customers on the health hazards of using wood briquettes as well as the impact of tree cutting. “Replacing behavior takes time,” Moza Ahmed said.
Despite the benefits obtained through the lean marketing program, Briq-o-blaze still encounters a number of challenges, such as the transportation costs of raw materials and availability of sufficient land to manage ash by-products of briquettes. In addition, like most businesses, Moza has been affected by COVID -19. Before the pandemic, sales were high; however, with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it became difficult to sell the volumes needed to become profitable.
However, Moza is not discouraged from her business venture. She plans to export Briq-o-blaze briquettes to the Middle East, and she will continue to grow her business and leverage the knowledge she gained as markets recover and adapt to COVID-19.