Ecologs stoke the sustainability fire

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Omuriro Biomass’ Ecologs began with a bright idea and finance from the Development Bank of Namibia (DBN) at the beginning of 2013. At the end of 2013, the organisation and its innovative environmental product are on the road to success.

Bush encroachment, which is mainly the result of overgrazing, is a problem for Namibian agriculture. When cattle overgraze on grass, they create perfect conditions for thorn bushes to shoot up. As more and more thorn bushes grow, the area available for grazing shrinks, creating difficult conditions for farmers. In addition, the thorn bushes are difficult and expensive to clear.

Innovative youth entrepreneur, Heiko Meyer, and an established businessman, Norbert Liebich, looked at what was considered a major problem and saw an opportunity to create benefits for farming, low income households and conservation, with the possibility of an export product as well.

By harvesting the invader bush they could clear land for farmers, provide a sustainable source of fuel for household fires, and reduce the incidence of cutting down protected trees such as the Camelthorn.

In order to create a usable source of fuel, the two realised that the bush would have to be converted into the form of logs. So the idea of the Ecologs was born.

DBN Acting Head of Lending, John Mbango, said agri-processing is normally associated with meat, dairy and grain, so Ecologs is a standout for the Bank. “We immediately saw the many benefits from the Omuriro Biomass project and the financing decision was relatively easy.”

However, the process of establishing production of the Ecologs was not without its pitfalls. The manufacturing process takes place in four phases. Firstly the bush is harvested. Secondly the bush is allowed to dry. Thirdly, the bush is turned into chips. Finally, the chips are formed into logs. Unfortunately, the machine required to turn the bush into chips was damaged during transport, and the company had to delay the setup of the production chain while a new chipper was obtained.

Said Mbango: “We realised that the delay in production was unavoidable, so we extended the grace period on repayment. We were glad that the client informed us, because we believe that unnecessary financial stress on the project would have placed a burden on an enterprise that leads the way for environmental sustainability.”

Once the hurdle was cleared, production began in September 2013, and the company has cleared 300 hectares of bush. Currently the company is able to clear four hectares of bush per day. The company now employs 23 Namibians, eight of whom are women.

The Ecologs product is available in Windhoek, Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Okahandja and Oshikango. The company is also introducing the product into South Africa, the Middle East and several countries in the European Union.

“Aside from the benefit of reducing bush encroachment, the Bank believes that this product has the ability to relieve the burden on households that are dependent on wood for cooking and heating water. Many households spend hours every week collecting or buying wood, and a product such as this has the ability to free those hours for productivity and education,” Mbango continued.

Mbango concluded by encouraging Namibian entrepreneurs with ideas for consumer products to bring their business plans to DBN. “We see many ideas for services, but Namibia needs to focus on reducing its reliance on imported consumer goods, and support local products. The Bank has experience in assisting manufacturers, and we would like to see more products which we have financed on the shelves of Namibian shops,” he said.

By Staff Reporter

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