I was visiting Akiba’s upcountry branches in Moshi and Arusha to conduct client interviews, give training about the insurance-linked savings of a new product (watch out for a post) and to have a staff meeting to get insight in employee satisfaction at Akiba (another post to watch out for).
Upcountry, it is Kilimanjaro, Kiswahili for ‘white or shining hill’, dominating the landscape, the weather and the conversations. With its impressive 5,985 meters height, it is North-eastern Tanzania’s best known landmark. Many take on the challenge of the climb and get carried away by the stunning views on the beautiful fertile plains full of crops and … by the altitude.
But amidst the superlatives in my guidebook, a special paragraph highlights ‘Reduce your impact on the environment’. The flourishing tourism has benefitted the local industry tremendously but threatens Kili’s natural eco-system by tons of solid waste that have been left behind on its slopes. Estimates range between 87 tons in 2003 and more than 150 tons of solid waste in recent years.
A worrisome reality…
… turned into a business opportunity by John, one of Akiba’s entrepreneurs.
I meet John in front of the gate of his business. When he starts telling, the passion in his voice and the dedication in his eyes immediately catch you. This story gets under your skin. John is a Mwarusha, a member of the Mwarusha tribe with Masai offspring from the Arusha area. This tribe is no longer wearing the traditional Masai clothes and traded the nomadic pastoralist lifestyle for a sedentary one. As a teenager John noticed the growing amount of plastic bottles and waste covering the streets of his village. If nobody did something soon, nothing much would remain of the beauty of the region. When John met his wife, an accountant, the idea for “Maendeleo Used Plastic”, a plastic waste collection and recycling business, was born. By locating the business at the outskirts of Arusha, it created jobs for very low-income families (John never had the chance to go to school himself) and at the same time it contributed towards a cleaner environment. On top of that it offered the couple a unique business opportunity.
While we are talking, village people run on and off with big carts full of bottles and used plastic. Everything is carefully weighed and the vendors receive 300 Tanzanian Shilling (TZS), the equivalent of 0.20 USD, a kilogram. Local women sort out the recyclable plastic: bottles are pressed to bundles of 1 meter cube, other plastic items disappear into a plastic shredder and are transformed into small pieces that are collected in huge plastic bags.Three Akiba Biashara loans allowed John to buy the press, the shredder and a lorry for transporting the processed waste for recycling to companies in Dar-es-Salaam, Kenya and recently also Arusha.
Today John is employing 25 staff, he has two second-hand machines, a press and a shredder, and a lorry. And he has plans to expand his company as today most of Tanzania’s plastic still ends up in public dumps or open belts.