We spend a lot of time talking to Vocational Colleges about something called ‘Entrepreneurship’, that combination of business, self-marketing and practical skills a student will need to make themselves employable or become self employed. Whilst visiting a college in Lira recently we were shown a small enterprise nearby that seemed to tick these and many other boxes.
It was the Okelo Kuc stoves company. It is only us wealthy folk who cook with bottled gas, everyone else uses charcoal or kerosene. The price of charcoal has gone up a great deal and will continue to rise as the source dries up, everywhere you see trees hacked down. The area is not deforested yet, but it won’t be long. An American NGO (International Lifeline Fund), that supplied cook stoves for the Internally Displaced Peoples camps during the conflict, has since funded this small company making fuel efficient stoves. The name Okelo Kuc means bringer of peace.
The clue to their success is the firebricks that line the stove. They are made with clay from the same site on which the metal parts are bashed together. The bricks are fired with rice husks (rice is grown in Uganda) rather than wood (saving stocks again) and rice is also mixed into the clay for an open texture to retain heat.
Everything is made by hand and, according to the foreman it saves about 60% on charcoal. He used to reckon to buy one bag a fortnight to cook for his family of ten, now he buys one every five – six weeks. A bag is about four – five foot high, full of charcoal, and with a thatched top to stop the burnt wood spilling out. These huge bags seem to be mostly, like many other bulky goods, transported on the backs of bicycles.
Okelo Kuc is an impressive company that works from the materials in the area, uses traditional skills, tin-smithing and brick making (recently fired brick stacks are ubiquitous)
and actually saves materials, and it is very local. The stoves are more expensive than the traditional sort, but the price is subsidised and the savings huge. They also make much larger ones, for school and college kitchens for example and we have seen several at work when we visit.
All in all a great example of the sort of Entrepreneurship we have been trying to explain.
Here is another example of the sort of self-marketing we have been talking about.