More than Sugar: Salima Sugar Company ventures into charcoal briquettes production

They are not just here to produce sugar. Not at all. Salima Sugar Company—on the shores of Lake Malawi in the central region—is engaging itself in a project that will not only advantage thousands of Malawians who fight for energy – in as far as cooking is concerned – but also help in easing deforestation that is proliferated by the citizenry’s overdependence on charcoal.

Workers at Salima Sugar Company

They have, full throttle, gone into production of briquettes – made from bagasse. And, these are effective – and can replace charcoal that is responsible for more than 80 percent of wanton cutting down of trees in the country.

A briquette is a compressed block of coal dust or other combustible biomass material like charcoal, sawdust, wood chips, peat, or paper used for fuel and kindling to start a fire.

For Salima Sugar Company, the bagasse being used in the production of the briquettes, is a by-product of crashed sugarcane.

The company crashes thousands of tonnes of sugarcane at its factory, extracting huge amounts of bagasse which is piling up there.

Bruhat Betgiri, one of Salima Sugar Company directors, says they currently produce 100 bags of charcoal briquettes on a daily basis and intend to increase the production soon, taking advantage of possession of excessive bagasse and manpower, technical and mechanical capacity.

He said the company joins a few producers of briquettes in Malawi who are trying hard to market the products in order to provide alternative sources of cooking energy to forest-dependent Malawians.

Bruhat Betgiri (far left) with other senior managers

“We will find and establish more markets in order to give the opportunity to more people to buy. We will also place our briquettes in charcoal selling hotspots so people can learn to buy them as an alternative to charcoal. In so doing, we will be helping to lessen the burden on forests. We will be helping government to conserve forests,” Betgiri says.

Giving credence to Betgiri sentiments are the statistics from the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources which reveal that Malawi loses about 25, 000 hectares of forests annually because 90 percent of the county’s citizens actually rely on charcoal and firewood for cooking on a daily basis.

And, in a country of close to 20 million people, where only 10 percent access electricity, it means a lot of people are not connected to the grid and resort to forest resources for energy.

Betgiri says the coming in of Salima Sugar Company in the mushrooming briquettes manufacturing industry sets the right trajectory in the production and promotion of the products in order to increase their uptake among people.

The company manages the vast sugarcane estates, the factory and other infrastructure in partnership with the Government of Malawi through the Green Belt Authority (GBA) in a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.

The two entities are currently operating on only 1600 hectares out of the total 6 000.

The government has 40 percent shares in one of the country’s biggest sugarcane growing and processing businesses.

Betgiri also discloses that Salima Sugar Company will, this year, crash over 210,000 tonnes of sugarcane, resulting in the production of 20,000 tonnes of sugar.

He describes the expected production as “huge and meeting the growing demand for sugar in Malawi.”

He says: “This is homegrown sugar to benefit a lot of citizens. We are only two main sugar producers in Malawi and we want to remain competitive to our competitor across the board which will lead to reduced sugar prices. And this is good for consumers and the economy.”

According to Betgiri, out of the 210,000 tonnes of sugarcane that will be crashed, 45,000 tonnes will be bought from smallholder and medium scale farmers at MK27,000 per tonne.

He says the pricing was upon agreement following discussions with farmers’ associations and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Out of the 6 000 hectares, 4000 constitute the core land for the growing of sugarcane by Salima Sugar Company and the GBA. 1 000 hectares is meant for medium scale farmers, 550 is for smallholder growers while 450 is for other developments.

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