Women turn trash into cash

As the sun rises, Judith Kwaramba leaves her family home in Tsanzaguru township, 20 km west of Rusape. Pushing a wheelbarrow containing a shovel, rake, pick, hoe, watering can, gumboots and gloves, she heads about 100 yards down a dirt road to check on her treasure stashed under plastic wraps.

Judith Kwaramba - we are now entreprenuers and we are making inroads into greater opportunities.
Judith Kwaramba – we are now entreprenuers and we are making inroads into greater opportunities.

That treasure is a mound of compost, or manure as it is called here. Kwaramba made the nutrient-rich soil from trash she collected, about 80 percent of which consists of biodegradable organic material. She sells the finished product to a local nursery, earning about $150 in a typical month — income that has helped her and her husband expand their old house, build a modern new home and send one of their five children to high school.

Kwaramba is one of the pioneers of a movement started in 2011 to improve the urban environment in the township. Rusape City authorities have long neglected waste collection in poor areas like Tsanzaguru.

Dumps are gone

Today, the dumps are gone thanks to Kwaramba and six other compost entrepreneurs, all of them women. Now Kwaramba hopes she can expand her business by purchasing her own vehicle to collect garbage from other nearby settlements.

“Having managed to clean our area (Tsanzaguru), we now go out to Rusape town seeking waste to turn into manure,” she said in a recent interview.

Rusape Town secretary Joshua Maligwa confirmed that the council had been under pressure in the area of waste management. He said garbage has been piling up on street corners, in open spaces and along roads, creating a terrible stench and spreading diseases such as cholera.

“We have taken delivery of a state-of-the-art 12-tonner refuse compactor that is set to enhance refuse collection throughout the town.” The dumper truck was purchased for $125 000. “We are going to decommission the dump site in the Grade Section and create another dump site in-between Rocking Stone Farm and Tsanzaguru,” said Maligwa.

Health risk

He said the council would construct a proper and environmentally compliant dumping site. The council has been dumping litter at undesignated points, which poses a health risk by creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes and flies.

The temporary dumping site, which at one point saw it at loggerheads with residents who live only a stone throw away from it, was in violation of Statutory Instrument 6 of 2007, which demands that local authorities come up with proper dumping sites away from residential areas.

“We have created another one about 10km outside the town. All along our hands had been tied as we were hamstrung by mobility challenges. Our fleet of tractors was old and could not travel to the new site. That is now a thing of the past and we are working with the Environmental Management Agency on a compliant land fill 10km outside the town,” explained Maligwa, adding that efforts to rehabilitate that dump site in Vengere by planting trees and turning the whole area into a green belt were already underway.

However, brave women in Tsanzaguru led by Kwaramba came together in 2011 to figure out a different way to handle solid waste in fast-growing impoverished areas while also promoting the empowerment of women.

Brave women

With a grant from the UN Development Programme, the women were trained in composting methods, as well as leadership skills, hygiene and sanitation, gender equality and prevention of HIV/AIDS.

They were supplied with tools as well as some land and a shed for sorting and composting waste. The women go door-to-door, collecting waste from homes and markets. They bring it to the shed and sort out inorganic waste such as plastic bottles and bags for burning. The organic waste is then piled into heaps.

“To enrich the mineral content, the waste is mixed with soil, dung or chicken droppings and tree leaves, maize or rice husks. A little water is sprinkled in to hasten the putrefaction process,” explained Kwaramba.

“We then cover the heap of waste under a plastic paper, which serves to heat and dry the waste for two weeks. After that the cover is removed and the waste is ploughed over regularly for the next four weeks to ensure that all particles are equally exposed to heat and that the nutrients are evenly distributed in the heap.

No bad smell

“When the process is complete and the product is ready we sift the finer particles and prepare them for sale. The final product is rich fine black soil, soft in texture with an inoffensive scent.”

The manure is sold to individuals, farmers in horticulture ventures and some nursery owners who buy the manure in large quantities. A bag of manure costs about $5, which is the minimum price depending on the number of kilograms. Kwaramba said they were aiming to increase their business.

“Indeed we need more outlets and a larger market to improve on our bargaining power when we sell the manure. We are now entrepreneurs and we are trying to make inroads with other landscapers, recreational gardeners and florists,” she said.

According to women in the group, the programme has achieved the objective of creating livelihoods from manure production.

Proud mother

“The programme has succeeded in creating a livelihood for us. What means more to many of us is the fact that we have used our composting income to acquire groceries, improve our homes or send our children to school,” said group member Phyllis Kaserera.

Another member, Gremma Jokonya, said before she turned to composting, she was a housewife who depended on her husband, a casual worker, for all her needs. Unfortunately, he died in 2012, leaving her with three children to support.

“Since my husband died, I have been able to fend for my children. I am a proud mother today as I am able to send my children to school and buy them food and clothes,” she added.

Lucia Tengwa too is better off. Married with five children, Tengwa is able to supplement her husband’s income. The women have continued collecting and composting trash even though start-up funding dried up last December.

A local councillor, Farai Chiripanyanga, said the programme had vastly improved waste management in his ward, saying “The project has created self-employment, financial stability, and community cleanliness.”

Anyone wishing to find out more or to start a similar project should contact: Judith Kwaramba – 0775549046

United Nations Development Programme Zimbabwe

UNDP Zimbabwe, Block 10, Arundel Office Park, Norfolk Road, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Tel: +263 4 338 836-44, Fax: +263 4 338 294

E-mail: [email protected]

Post published in: Analysis

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