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Varsity graduate gets hands dirty for a tidy profit

In February this year, when Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko placed a moratorium on logging in order to safeguard forests, the announcement killed many businesses which depend on raw materials from the forest cover. But the ban opened doors for other entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity because outlawing charcoal-burning and sale did not mean that Kenyans would no longer need fuel.One of those who have reaped from the ban is 28-year-old Joy Rubuya, who since 2016 has been making charcoal briquettes, specialising in brooding briquettes which are mostly used by poultry farmers to provide heat for chicks.Brooding briquettes comprise soil, coffee, macadamia and coconut husks as well as charcoal and sawdust as raw materials, which are mixed with water and taken through a combustion process. This is molded using briquette- making machines before being dried.One year into the venture, which many of her friends and relatives considered “dirty”, Ms Rubuya through her marketing skills has managed to raise herclientele base to 60 customers who order at least 100 bags each.According to the Bachelor of Commerce graduate from Dedan Kimath University, a bag retails at Sh700 and in a good month, she can make as much as Sh400, 000.Early this year, the entrepreneur was scratching her head on how to expand her venture when Mr Keriako announced that cutting down of trees for firewood and charcoal had been outlawed.The announcement saw thousands of people lose business, and where the commodity was available, the price had gone up from Sh1,000 to Sh3,000 per bag,making it hard for many to afford.

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But this, as it would turn out, was a blessing to Ms Rubuya because she started receiving inquiries for charcoal briquettes from potential clients, among them hotels, schools, meat- selling outlets and even homes.“When I started to get inquiries on charcoal briquettes, I thought pretty first and decided to diversify in order to reap from the opportunity and that is when I started manufacturing charcoal briquettes although I still produce brooding briquettes,” Ms Rubuya told Enterprise.She says demand for charcoal briquettes is insatiable, and when stock is available, she sells between 100 and 200 bags a day atSh900 and 1,300 per bag of 25 kilogrammes and 50 kilogrammes respectively.To advertise her products, Ms Rubuya, who has clients from as far as Mombasa, Nyeri, Nakuru and Kisumu has been using online marketing platforms and she says: “About 90 percent of my clients are from the social media, for example Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, among others”.The high demand for the product is a challenge which she has been grappling with since her machine can only produce between 70 to 80 bags per day which is way below the daily demand.But how did Ms Rubuya, who hails from Laikipia County, choose this “dirty” venture instead of searching for a white collar jobs like her educated age mates?For several months before the launch of the business, she wondered what sustainable business she could venture into with minimum capital since she did not want to go into formal employment after graduating.With her marketing training, she did a business survey that convinced her to start making briquettes in Kiambu since the research showed that charcoal briquettes were increasingly becoming fast-moving goods in urban areas.Briquettes proved to be of higher quality compared to ordinary charcoal since they have a longer ‘lifespan’ and do not emit smoke. And with many people venturing into farming, she saw great potential in the trade.“When you put charcoal briquettes into a jiko, they usually burn for three to four hours before going out while traditional charcoal dies out in less than an hour. Briquettes also have more heat and do not emit smoke and soot like the other charcoal,” she said.The businesswoman, who is never shy to say what she does for a living, underwent training on how to make charcoal briquettes and soon she was ready to set the ball rolling.Armed with a capital of Sh250, 000, she bought a second hand briquette- making machine and raw materials and assembled a plant in Ruiru on the Eastern Bypass, which started with only two workers.Despite several advantages, the business also faces a myriad of challenges such as bad weather. During rainy and cold seasons, briquettes take longer to dry, meaning the output is also low.Raw materials used in making the briquettes are also expensive since some are sourced from as far as Muran’ga and Nyeri at a cost which she says is eating into her profit.But she is undaunted. To give back to society, Ms Rubuya has been training youth and women groups in her home county to reduce high unemployment.“The youth should be innovative and stop shunning the so-called dirty jobs since they are in fact the most paying jobs,” said Ms Rubuya, who currently employs eight people.

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