Bangladesh Cooking Fuel from Rice Hulls: an Integrated Food-Energy System - Increase Jobs - Transfer Technology to Tanzania

Bangladesh Cooking Fuel from Rice Hulls: an Integrated Food-Energy System - Increase Jobs - Transfer Technology to Tanzania

Bangladesh
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Budget: 
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Alleviate human suffering attributable to shortages of cooking fuel. Reduce deforestation related to the gathering of firewood. Provide a sustainable low cost cooking fuel made from a locally sourced waste product – rice hulls. Increase the income of the working poor in developing countries by creating a business opportunity for production of cooking fuel and a related network of retail outlets. Improve the current process in Bangladesh. Adapt the process and business model to Tanzania and other parts of the world

Design technologies that are affordable, appropriate for the local culture and respectful of the environment. Add value to farm products, and increase the availability of clean burning cooking fuel.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The community at the current project site includes about 25,000 people in northwest Bangladesh that reside in 18 villages within three miles of the project site. The average family income is less than $500 USD per year. There is an approximate 50% literacy rate for the adult population. The predominant occupations in the area include subsistence farming, agriculture day workers and brick factory workers. About 60% of the population is under age 25 and finding jobs is a top priority. The political environment is fairly stable, but the typical villager does not have much political influence. Family structure is important and village life is influenced by religious background or ethnic heritage. The area has mixed influences from the Islam and Hindu religions. The area has significant tribal group villages with strong cultural traditions. Health issues for children include high frequency of bacterial diarrhea and childhood pneumonia. The CTI project has been helpful and engaging because it provides one of life’s basic necessities – cooking fuel. The provision of a locally produced alternative fuel helps moderate the cost of all cooking fuel, provides incremental value to a dominant local crop and creates economic activity with production jobs, vending jobs and transport jobs. The jobs created by the project have been filled by young adults and include both men and women. An indirect benefit of a more convenient cooking fuel is the reduction in time that children spend collecting animal dung and firewood. This provides an opportunity for children to spend the time savings in pursuit of education.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The CTI project in Bangladesh is an “Integrated Food-Energy System (IFES)”, an innovative concept promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations because: “Producing food and energy side-by-side may offer one of the best formulas for boosting countries’ food and energy security while simultaneously reducing poverty.” The innovative CTI sponsored cooking fuel from rice hulls project brought a known technology to a new area for the benefit of the poor. A major barrier to economic development in Bangladesh is the inability of the poor to form capital for implementing available technology and the lack of managerial ability to establish moderately complex business enterprises. CTI has contributed to the formation of capital and has worked with local volunteers to provide the managerial ability to help establish a sustainable enterprise. After a period of initial training, area residents operate the enterprise. The initiative is also innovative because it uses local materials (rice hulls) that are renewable on an annual basis to produce greatly needed cooking fuel. The cooking fuel from rice hulls is beneficial from a health stand point because it burns cleaner than either animal dung or firewood. Many respiratory diseases in developing countries are caused by smoke and ash from cooking fires. The cooking fuel from rice hulls is also beneficial to the environment. It is produced from a renewable energy source, does not rely on being transported long distances and can be used where it is grown.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The current project includes a facility for producing cooking fuel and a network of retail outlets in nearby villages that sell the cooking fuel. The project is located near Parbatipur in the Dinajpur District, Bangladesh. In 2009, CTI sponsored a facility that uses rice hulls, a waste product from rice processing, to produce solid fuel sticks. The facility has been in operation for over 18 months and is now self sustainable. Rice hulls are obtained from local mills and are processed into the fuel sticks using specialized equipment. The fuel sticks are easily stored and transported to supply a network of retail outlets. Depending on the season, the facility directly employs 6 to 10 people and provides incremental employment to area retail vendors and transportation workers. The facility has a capacity of over 100 tons of product a month. Business formation activities include: sourcing capital for building and equipment, setting up the facility, establishing supplier relationships with local rice mills, hiring employees, training employees and developing a retail network.
About You
Organization:
Compatible Technology International
About You
First Name

Steven

Last Name

Laible

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About Your Organization
Organization Name

Compatible Technology International

Organization Country

, MN, Ramsey County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, XX

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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Innovation
What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

The cooking fuel from rice hulls project was started as the result of a meeting in November of 2008 in Dhaka, Bangladesh between Steve Laible and Ed Scott. Steve is the CTI volunteer project director for Bangladesh. Ed is involved with an organization in Bangladesh that seeks to improve the lives of the people living “at the margin” of society. Ed was born in the USA, but has spent most of his adult life in Bangladesh. He has been a construction supervisor for the building of two hospitals and has been an advocate for economic development, health care and social justice for the people of Bangladesh. Ed learned of the cooking fuel production process from another area and suggested to Steve that it would be a great idea for the Parbatipur area where CTI has a project site. Steve agreed with the value of the idea and petitioned CTI to provide start up funding. Within 9 months the facility was completed and within 18 months the facility had enough sales revenue to cover all costs of production and make a small profit. Because CTI has not required a payback of initial capital, the facility is currently self sustaining.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

This project was approached as essentially a business proposition. Within two years of start up it has proven to be a commercial success. The revenue from product sales is consistently higher than the cost of raw materials (rice hulls), production energy used (electricity), labor (jobs for the local economy) and transportation. The local demand for cooking fuel is so high that all production has been sold. Initial capital has been treated as a contribution with no requirement for payback and some administrative time is contributed by volunteers. The project has also been successful from an environmental viewpoint because it has lessened the demand for and use of firewood. On an anecdotal basis, volunteers familiar with the project have noticed that women and children spend less time gathering animal dung and firewood when a more convenient cooking fuel is available.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

The current project in Bangladesh is considered sustainable and any future growth will be determined by the residents who conduct day to day operations. As growth in sales occurs, it will be possible to add additional production capacity as warranted.

The infusion of investment capital from a source like the Changemaker prize would make it possible for CTI to expand in additional locations. A suitable site has been identified in Tanzania. There are other potential sites in Bangladesh and there is a suitable site in India.

CTI will make the technology and lessons learned available to others to the extent that projects in other rice growing countries are able to attract sponsors to fund the cost of transfer.

Sustainability
What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

The primary barrier to growth or transfer of technology is a lack of start up capital. Organizations like Changemakers can overcome the capital formation barrier by providing funding to transfer the technology to other prospective project sites. CTI volunteers have identified a very suitable site in Morogoro, Tanzania. The Tanzania site has the following critical elements: a cluster group of “tinsmiths” (metal fabricators that make a fuel efficient, charcoal burning stove), “smallholder” rice farmers that produce sufficient rice to provide rice hulls, and available volunteers that could help with the transfer of technology and set up of a production facility to produce cooking fuel. The tinsmiths, with guidance, have the capacity to manufacture the needed equipment. The cluster of rice growers are looking for a beneficial use for rice hulls that result from rice milling. The entire area is looking for an alternative to charcoal, a fuel source that requires deforestation. And job creation is needed to lift the local economy.

A prospective facility would also include process and equipment improvements that are currently being prepared by the Michigan Tech University, Department of Engineering. A Changemaker prize could be used to facilitate the transfer of a proven technology to a second site or geographic region.

Tell us about your partnerships

The current partnership is an informal one between CTI volunteer Steve Laible and volunteer Ed Scott who spends considerable time in Bangladesh. The current arrangement is based on friendship, trust and a commitment to serving people who live at the margin of the world’s economic systems. An emerging partnership, also informal, is with Michigan Tech University and its Engineering Department. Faculty advisors and engineering students at Michigan Tech University have “adopted” the cooking fuel from rice hulls project as one they are trying to improve. Technical improvements in the area of energy transfer, consistency of processing and control of heat and power drive are expected in future months as a result of research work being done at Michigan Tech University.

Explain your selections

Compatible Technology International is a relatively small organization structured with a core paid staff that is supplemented by many volunteers. CTI has been in existence for 30 years. The volunteers have relationships with friends and family who provide support dollars for various projects. Some technology items, primarily hand-operated grinders, are sold to customers. As work in developing countries has progressed, CTI has been able to gain some support from Foundations, NGOs and corporations.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

The cooking fuel from rice hulls project will likely continue to develop in small steps. Any accelerated growth in operation is completely dependent on receiving sponsorship funding from donors or other interested parties. The current project site is deemed sustainable. Any further expansion or transfer of technology is totally dependent on an external source providing the needed capital investment.

Challenges
Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.

PRIMARY

Lack of visibility and investment

SECONDARY

Lack of skills/training

TERTIARY

Lack of access to information and networks

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

While there is a constant demand for cooking fuel and a constant need for jobs, the CTI project was the first opportunity for producing an alternative energy source in the Parbatipur area. The key to getting started was to provide the initial capital investment through the CTI donor network and to provide the visibility to the innovation by having a production facility on the main road. A second important factor was to provide training on the use of equipment as well as volunteer management assistance with business factors such as setting up the facility, establishing supplier relationships, arranging transportation and organizing vendor outlets for distribution of finished product.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.

PRIMARY

Grown geographic reach: Multi-country

SECONDARY

Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices

TERTIARY

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

There is a strong desire and unique opportunity to transfer the cooking fuel from rice hulls technology to Tanzania from Bangladesh. Sponsorship, such as the Changemaker prize, is necessary to provide the funds to replicate the initial success in a new area. There are also suitable sites in Bangladesh and India.

The work being done by Michigan Tech University could lead to advances in production efficiency. The improvements, when available, can be implemented at the CTI project site and shared with other interested parties.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

NGOs/Nonprofits, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

The most important and potentially valuable collaboration is with Michigan Tech University. There is an expectation that the collaboration will lead to improved processing and increased financial success in a project that is already considered sustainable. CTI is also sharing information via its website with other like minded organizations in the hope of getting additional processing sites established.