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During the last two years, the market size of bio-briquettes in Nepal has increased significantly, creating more opportunities for small enterprises. The sizeable market has resulted after several interventions of ANSAB and its supported programs for the product’s quality enhancement, marketing campaigns, and other considerations in favor of the customers’ demand.
Bio-Briquettes are a promising source of alternative energy with a proven record of their effectiveness to increase earnings for the poor, reduce health risks for women and children, maintain carbon pool in forests, and reduce the propagation of invasive alien species. There are several small-scale bio-briquettes projects in Nepal that have been supported by several NGOs and donors. Most of these programs are successful at the local level; still there was an apprehension to expand the production of briquettes because of lack of sizeable markets in the country. With this background, ANSAB envisioned a separate type of intervention in bio-briquette was required to fulfill the environmental conservation and livelihood enhancement potential of the product. ANSAB’s goal was to expand the market for bio-briquette, so that the product would move from being a marginal product to a more mainstream one, thus creating new opportunities for several of the small processing enterprises.
ANSAB helped establish five local enterprises in Dolakha and Sindhupalchok districts in Nepal to provide innovative models for the production of briquettes since 2007. At first ANSAB worked with scientists in Kathmandu to improve the stoves and the briquettes production technologies traditionally used in villages. The organisation then helped the interested communities to raise capital, select leaders, establish enterprises organizational structures, buy needed equipments and train future staff. An experimentation phase followed, in which ANSAB suggested several changes to bring quality and efficiency up to the required level for mass production – the ratio of char and binder was adjusted, communities started to use pit rather than charring drum, new mixer machines were delivered, grinders were improved, etc.
The most innovative part of the operation, however, was the development of an urban market for the bio-briquettes produced by the new enterprises. ANSAB worked with the five communities and other interested individuals to establish a national company based in Kathmandu – Himalayan Green Energy Private Limited (named as Himalayan Naturals at present). It then worked with this new entity to create a network of departmental stores ready to sell the product in the city and to produce an appealing packaging for consumers. It also supported extensive marketing activities, for example by setting-up 40 one-day kiosks throughout Kathmandu to demonstrate the product and its multiple uses. Development agencies were also encouraged to start using bio-briquettes to heat their offices.
Himalayan Naturals now stands as the main briquette marketing company in Nepal. It sold 120,000 briquettes and 2,200 improved stoves through 51 retail outlets and 7 distributers in 2009, and exceeded the quantity of briquettes sold in 2009 in just three months of the year 2010. The consortium of the five community enterprises along with the Himalayan Naturals is also providing direct employment to 94 people (52 men and 42 women, income: US$ 24,934/yr). The organization has started to collect briquettes from all around Nepal, and states that the current problem of bio-briquettes is not the market size but their production and supply in sufficient number.
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