Groundnut shell fuel briquettes are made from the discarded shells of groundnuts, which are available in large quantities in Gambia because of its groundnut industry. The briquettes have been pioneered by local businessman, Anthony Tabbal, and his briquette-making business was recognised in 2011 by the United Nations Environment Programme for its contribution to sustainable development. As well as manufacturing the fuel briquettes, Mr Tabbal also runs a restaurant in one of The Gambia’s leading areas for tourism. Ismaila Senghore went there to meet him, and began by asking what had motivated Mr Tabbal to make a cooking fuel from groundnut shells.

Tabbal: The main purpose why I started pressing groundnut shells was to find an alternative fuel. Most Gambians rely on mainly wood fuels to cook with and charcoal. So the whole point of starting this project was to limit the use of firewood, because of course The Gambia is at a very vulnerable point now, with the amount of forest left. And of course also for financial gains. I started the company because I was spending so much money on firewood and charcoal and gas before. This was another point why I started to think about it, to find something that was cheaper and I ended up coming up with this solution. So the solution, I will start saving money when I am using it, and also saving our environment.

Senghore: Now I have just had a feel of the briquettes themselves as they came out of the machine. They look very smooth and shiny on the surface, and they look hard, hard on the touch, which means they will probably burn for a long time. Now where do you get the groundnut shells from?

Tabbal: I get them from the main dumping site where the Gambian Groundnut Corporation is dumping the shells. I go out there with my guys a couple of times a week. Pick up the shells, come back here and process them through the machine. We are doing about 600 kilos an hour. The hardness you saw, there was the machine compressing it, and when you heard the machine you heard this knocking sound. This knocking is hitting four times a second and every hit is four tonnes pressure and is going through a heated cone of 130 degrees. It's just pressure and heat that does the job.

Senghore: Now do you have to pay for the groundnut shells when you go to collect them, or you get them free?

Tabbal: Fortunately I get them free. Because as we all know the groundnut shells have been as a waste before, but I do get them for free. Gambia Groundnut Corporation, together with the Gambian government has actually given me access. I asked for it before I started the project and it was no problem for them whatsoever. Because it has to be free at this point for me to be able to maintain that price. Once it is charged for, the price will have to go up, and we would like to keep it to a price that everybody can afford them. So the government has been very supportive, and the Gambian Groundnut Corporation has been very supportive with that point that they allow me to get it for free.

Senghore: Thinking about affordability as you mentioned earlier, for the people who are not very wealthy here, how do you come about deciding a price, pricing system?

Tabbal: Charcoal is quite expensive, but firewood is not, and I am trying to tackle the firewood problem. So I had to price it the same as firewood or less, which was very difficult. If it will go higher than firewood, most people will not change. And it is very important to do that change now, because it is not only about money, as we said, it is about the environment as well. So I was forced to price it the same price as firewood, to be able to have the alternative but it will not cost you more money. And it was not easy to do it here, but it is something which has to be done to be able to get this product out. But I think the environmental impact which you leave behind is what's more important sometimes than the profit you are making.

Senghore: Now, I'm sure people are coming forward to look at your briquettes and try them. What would you say is the response of the people since you have started up to now?

Tabbal: Well the people have been very helpful. When I started in the beginning, I had my own design of everything, how to use the briquettes, but through my customers that I first started with, that is how it evolved; they always came back or they called me and they gave me feedback about the smoke emission and we did something about it. So I think the public are the ones that I should actually thank most because the Gambian public have been very supportive. They have been willing to try it as well, and if you don't have them behind you, you will not succeed in a business like this. So their response right now is very positive. Most of them I've spoken to are very happy with it, they are going to continue using it. Some of them even told me that it's just peaceful for them now. They don't have to go anywhere, try to see if the firewood is wet in the winter, in the rainy season, or bargaining at the shop, getting their floors black from the charcoal. They actually said to me that it's so much more relaxing now; the few that are really enjoying it. But of course we recommend before any user starts, we always have the Wednesday demonstrations here. We recommend everyone to come, let's show you how to use this product, because there are ways of using everything.

Senghore: What do you do, basically, in demonstration?

Tabbal: Demonstration, we use it to show people how to cook with it, how to light it, how to use it, how to add, how to reduce heat, and what not to do and what to do. Because you know this, everything is different. A lot of people will take it and start using it like they normally use charcoal or firewood. So there are certain to dos and not to dos that we just show them. It takes about 5 minutes to show them, and that 5 minutes means a lot because it really makes it efficient for your cooking habits.

Senghore: After talking to Mr Anthony Tabbal, MD of Green Tech Gambia Solutions, I'm here at his restaurant kitchen. Now Mr Tabbal made me know that actually here he uses only briquettes. There is no electricity, there is no other form of heating other than these groundnut shell briquettes. Now Fatou is a cook here - am I right, are you a cook here?

Kamara: Yes, I normally cook.

Senghore: What were you using before you went into the groundnut shell briquettes?

Kamara: Like here, we were using before charcoal, but now we know the briquette is better than charcoal, and it's economic, and you can use it without your hands getting dirty, for the first place, and it's a benefit compared to buying this charcoal...

Senghore: It's cheaper?

Kamara: It's cheaper, yes. You can use it without... because I use only two kilos to cook my food, like 10 dalasis.

Senghore: That is cooking for how many people?

Kamara: I can say 15 to 16 people, the company and the house.

Senghore: When you say 15 people, that's really an entire family. So a family would originally use more than 10 dalasis to cook, isn't it?

Kamara: Yes, that's right. So it's better for the people to come and buy, because it's economic anyway, and it's cheap.

Senghore: Now did it take you some time to learn how to use these briquettes, or is it easy to use?

Kamara: Yes, it's easy to light it. I normally use grass and put it under before I put the briquettes and light it.

Senghore: So you just light the grass and then the briquettes will just catch the fire?

Kamara: Yes, will catch the fire.

Senghore: After lighting it now, what do you do, do you keep on adding briquettes?

Kamara: Yes, you keep on adding briquettes but not too much. You just put only a bit, two or three.

Senghore: A bit at a time, you put a bit at a time.

Kamara: Yes.

Senghore: And then you cook using the fire and the heat together?

Kamara: Yes, if you just try it once and you see it and know how to use it; it's easier anyway.

Senghore: So many people are doing it now? Many of the ladies are going in for the briquettes?

Kamara: Yes. (Laughing)

Senghore: Very good. Ok, thank you very much Kamara. It has been a pleasure talking to you.

Kamara: Thank you too. Ok, bye.

To listen to this interview on audio by Agfax, visit the source web page