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Ugandan entrepreneur uses briquettes to address gender and development issues


Betty Ikalany impressed us from day one when she contacted us to inform us she wished to start her a briquette-making industry targeting some of Uganda’s most vulnerable populations: women carrying the HIV/AIDS virus and the young unwed mothers that are often ostracized by society.

A year on, we are happy to report on Betty’s inspiring story.

— The Charcoal Project

By Joe Gurowsky

Briquettes as the Triple Bottom Line

Betty Ikalany. Social worker, clean tech and renewable energy entrepreneur.

Betty Ikalany, a Ugandan social worker and entrepreneur, believes her budding community-based, fuel briquette-making enterprise can generate income and also help families save money, especially the single mothers and women struggling with HIV/AIDS.

An additional but important benefit is that fuel briquettes reduce demand for unsustainably harvested wood and charcoal.

A third goal is to reduce the indoor air pollution (woodsmoke) that is common when people use charcoal or firewood in traditional cookstoves. (Indoor air pollution from the incomplete combustion of wood and charcoal using traditional cookstoves results in about 2 million deaths annually worldwide.)

For Betty, briquettes are clearly the triple bottom line approach to solving multiple problems. “Fuel briquettes are a no-brainer. They provide income, protect the environment, and improve public health. What is there not to like?,” she asks.

Fire in her belly

Children spend a lot of time collecting fuel for cooking.

In Uganda, especially in rural areas where communities cannot afford to buy propane gas or electricity, cooking is associatd with long hours spent collecting increasingly scarce wood. “The diminishing wood fuel supplies and the increasing prices of both firewood and charcoal make it difficult for some households to cook more than one meal a day,” says Betty.

She believes charcoal briquettes can help bridge the gap. The briquettes are made using simple, technologies available in communities. The feedstock for the fuel comes from discarded agricultural residues, sawdust, and from other biomass that is readily available nearby but is presently going to waste.

The Price of Energy Poverty

Currently, the price of a 100kg bag of charcoal in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, hovers between 50,000 to 70,000 Uganda shillings (20-30 USD), In rural areas, the same charcoal can be bought for about 30,000 to 45,000 Uganda shillings (13 -18 USD). On average, it is estimated that a family requires about one kilogram of charcoal per person per day to cook a meal.

Mother's and their babies.

Charcoal briquettes, however, when sold in the local markets sell for 500 Uganda shillings (0.20 USD) a kilogram. But in Kampala, they are now being sold for 1,500 Uganda shillings (0.60 USD) when packaged and sold in supermarkets.

To encourage adoption of charcoal briquettes for cooking, Betty is selling almost three kilograms for 1,000 Uganda shillings (0.40 USD). She hopes to package the briquettes once they are able to be produced on a large scale and sell them to supermarkets, schools, restaurants and in the local urban market areas.

A Real Problem for Real People

The Soroti district and Teso region are areas in particular need of production of charcoal briquettes and energy saving stoves due to the scarcity of firewood and trees for charcoal-making. In the past, community members could easily collect firewood, but today community members are reluctant to share their dwindling resources due to the scarcity and escalating prices.

Women and children are the main participants in the briquette-making process.

Trained as a social worker, Betty is eager to include women in the briquette-making enterprise. She believes the income-generating potential offered by briquette-making will empower women by making them more economically independent.

She specifically targets women living with HIV/AIDS and girls dropping out of school due to pregnancy because these two groups usually suffer greatly from stigma and discrimination in the community, which impedes their ability to provide a living for themselves.

Betty hopes to help all women to acquire the knowledge to make charcoal briquettes.  Despite her focus on vulnerable women, Betty believes positive outcomes are also possible in households headed by men. “Women can help us reach the men who are strong decision makers in the family,” she says.

The Challenges of Entrepreneurship

Mrs. Ikalany says her biggest challenge is not having the appropriate briquette-making machines. As a result, she is presently obliged to mold the briquettes by hand. Such a challenge clearly slows productivity and does not enable her to produce the briquettes on a scale large enough to acquire sufficient financial capital.

These fireballs are good. But they could be better.

In addition, getting paper to be used as a binder has proved difficult. After receiving complaints about the cow dung she used as an alternative, she is now using cassava flour as a binder.

Transporting the briquettes to market remains a problem as well. Betty and briquette-making ladies must rely on hiring bicycles or carry the briquettes on their heads.

Despite the challenges, Betty cites her greatest success as managing to convince people in the neighborhoods and in the markets that charcoal briquettes are cheaper, cleaner and efficient.

She is also enthusiastic about being able to attract young women and some boys to work with her. Betty looks forward for continued momentum and spreading charcoal briquettes and sustainable development throughout Uganda.

In the medium and long run, Betty’s goal is to expand the program across the Soroti and Teso regions. Her biggest dream? To see her project replicated in other communities.

Betty operates currently in the Teso and Soroti District of Uganda.

Betty Ikalany in her own words:

“I would like to gain training on how to make charcoal kilns. I would also like to obtain financial support in order to acquire some manual extruders (a type of briquette-making device) for training the community groups and a motorized screw char extruder (another type of briquette-making device) to help me produce larger quantities of briquettes.

We could also use financial and technical support to develop energy saving stoves. Lastly, we want to engage in tree planting to replace the forest that’s been cut down for fuel. But we need training on fast growing species and information of how we can get seeds. We aim to work with schools to have wood slots in every school and with local community members.

If you are interested in supporting Betty, please contact Sylvia Herzog at sherzog@charcoalproject.org


  1. Hauwa Abdulkadir Lawal says:

    Congratulations Betty more greese to your elbow,how I wish I can give you assistance because I really believe in your capabilities and determination. But with God on your side the sky is the limit. Carry go Betty

  2. Ellen Dzah says:

    My dearest Betty, this does not come to me as a surprise at all. It was a vision you nursed and am very proud we are seeing the reality today. You are indeed a genius and kind hearted person concern about the sufferings of your rural folks. Continue this good work and we promise to support you in this endeavour. God bless you

  3. Icol Sam says:

    Hi Betty we imprest with what your group is doing in Soroti and were thinking you could help train some of how members.
    We hope it ok with to have our member trained.
    thank we hope to meet you soon

  4. Aber Jennifer says:

    dear Betty.
    I highly appreciate this great vision and innovation.This project is going to save our enviroment a lot as well as changing the life of of vulnerable mothers at home.I am personally impress and coming to soroti to visit this project .Go ahead and may God bless you for this divine ideas.
    Jennifer Aber

  5. Akello Babra says:

    The rate at which trees are being cut down for charcoal and firewood in Uganda and especially Teso region, such innovation come as a blessing in disguise. Betty, i hope each household will get to know these skills and replicate them. I am proud of selfless women like you. I wish we had 100 of you in Uganda then we would see development.

  6. Hellen Acuku says:

    I want to get this skill too. i am tired of the skyrocketing prices of charcoal and firewood especially during dry season.How do i get in touch with Betty and i arrange for her to train all my family members.

  7. Patrick Okware says:

    This is good but please involve men too. There are many jobless young men roaming the streets.
    This skills could be a solution to unemployment.Otherwise , i would love to visit this group one day or get into contact with their leader.

  8. Anouk van der Jagt says:

    Hey dear Betty,

    So proud to read this! You are really getting there and making your dreams come true. I’m sure with your perseverance you will make it and lots of people will benefit from it. Especially the vulnerable ones. I’ll be in touch and hopefully we’ll meet again in the future.
    Warm regards from your Dutch family! Anouk, GertJan, Zilver & Lune


    Dear Betty. Nice hear such people are coming up, i have for last 16yrs suffering on energy alternative, worked on most needed in communities, i have done much on briquttes, stoves, solar for lighting etc, women groups can do much on this issue only that if we a to achieve more we have to think of mass production using machines, an issue i have tried too.
    Hw best can we meet exchanging visits ideed ideas.
    Feel free contacting me on ;ric_kizito@yahoo.com or 0754140199.

  10. Adel says:

    Hi Patrick,I read in Harvest Money about your report on eiuqrbtte making. Am a German volunteer living and working in the rural remote areas of Kabarole District, here Ruteete Subcounty. I wish to learn more about the project because I think it can also help our families and children living with HIV/AIDS and it could also be a very good project for jobless young people. How much is the press and where to get it? Where can we get instructions how to make the eiuqrbttes?I am the Director of the Organisation SOMA CHILD SUPPORT UGANDA with sit in Ruteete, Ruteete Subcounty, Kabarole District, 17 km from Fort Portal Town.I would be very glad to hear from you coz this idea/project could also help my children and schools we are working with.Thanks so much.yoursElfie

  11. Karen says:

    I’d like to see the bulletin adedrss the following question that’s been bugging me for a long long time: If clean and energy efficient charcoal cookstoves are such a great idea (because they save money and improve indoor pollution), why do we need program to encourage people to use them?The use of cell phones among housesehold in the same income bracket that charcoal stoves are being promoted is impressively high and yet cel phones are much more expensive than an efficient energy stove and there isn’t a NGO or government program’ to encourage their use. Hence, what are we not doing right in cookstove programs, and what can the business community teach us about how to make efficient stoves the new next investment that households want to make?

  12. Okebe Onya says:

    Please Betty you may not know this; but let me say it. Your vision is of such great importance not only to your community but the whole country. Uganda has lost more that 60% of its tree cover as I write now. The Proportion of Carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing by the day and no one needs a reminder on how this is affecting the Climate. Disaster is looming on the Human race in general. People like you are not only good but are also divine.

    Anyone giving you as much as a cent to advance this your endeavor is not just supporting you but generally contributing to the welfare of mother earth and to the Human race altogether. As a Minister of the Word of God, I do not only commend you, but I also pray that the Lord God gives you further vision to help His people and the planet from the adverse man-made effects.

    So great is your vision and thinking, that I surely recommend every support for your ideas from all over the World. I stand to remind everyone who will be fortunate enough to read this comment that: please talk to anyone you know who may have resources to support Betty to do so without hesitation and delay.

  13. Dear Karen,
    Congratulations, your question cuts to the essence of the challenge. Solving the riddle you describe is going to make all the difference whether the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstove, whose mission is to deploy 100M clean cookstoves by 2020, succeeds or fails. Here at The Charcoal Project our role is to explore the issue and try to identify what we think are the most promising solutions. What this means is that we don’t think we have all the answers but we hope that we are asking the right questions, like the one you pose.

    So, to answer your question, which is one we’ve asked ourselves on the blog before, the main difference difference between a clean cookstove and a mobile phone is… desireability. Everyone wants a mobile phone because of the convenience and the status it conveys. The effects of owning a mobile phone are immediate. A clean cookstove requires changing some very ingrained habits. If people accumulate a bit of money the prefer to buy a phone, a tv, or something they can display in their living rooms, not something that is relegated to the kitchen. The health benefits derived from reduced emissions are not seen as immediate challenges to overcome. And the savings in fuel is not always as clear cut as you would think. It’s a little bit like climate change: it’s happening but you won’t see the difference until you do the math over a period of years. (Please see our post earlier this week on the study on clean cookstoves in Tanzania).

    Interestingly enought, one of the stoves that have been most successful is one designed by Prakti. (Search Prakti on our site) The reason is that it’s a good looking stove, even though it still burns wood and/or charcoal. But it looks like a miniature version of an elegant LPG stove. As they say in the ad world, it’s an “aspirational” thing.

    Another stove we liked was the BioLite stove (search biolite). The reason is because it has a neat function that allows households to charge cell phones using the heat from the stove. That provides a very tangible and immediate benefit to the consumer.

    Another challenge to largescale deployment is cost. The clean cookstove community has yet to develop a stove that is cheap enough for the poorest of the poor.

    Finally, I would say that people want something that is easy to adopt, burns better, and is cheaper than what they currently have. Those are important challanges that the clean cookstove community has yet to overcome.

    Keep asking good questions! We love them! And thanks for writing!

  14. Dear Adel,
    Thank you for writing. The Charcoal Project is currently working with three partners in Uganda on developing better fuel briquettes that are inexpensive and an efficient substitute for wood and charcoal. We are currently in the process of developing several pilot projects that we hope will help us all get a good grasp on the technology and the business model so that we can roll it out, together with partners like you, to the broader community.

    We are not presently in a position to provide a training program to interested parties but I am certain that our partners in Uganda like REF Schools (in Rubaare, between Kabale and Mbarara) and Betty Ikalany, in the district of Soroti, would be happy to have you come and visit them and they could show you their operation and how things work. Let me know if this is something you are interested in doing and I can put you in touch.



  15. emuron moses says:

    With this rain. Getting firewood and charcoal is becoming a nightmare. This new technology should be spread to many communities especially targeting all women because its women who look for firewood and ensure food is cooked. Can we have massive campaigns to promote briquettes because many people don’t know what they are and are therefore reluctant to buy them. Lets join hands together to save the environment and save people who walk long distances to look for firewood.


  16. Emiru Ninah says:

    What are charcoal briquettes? Most people feel they might not light like either firewood or charcoal they are used to? Can one mix them with charcoal to ensure that they will surely work like charcoal.

  17. Dear Emiru Ninah,
    Charcoal briquettes are similar to charcoal in that it is made from carbonized biomass, which can be just about any type of vegetable or woody material such as agricultural waste (corn husks, rice hulls, banana leaves, stalks, etc.) or non-traditional woody vegetation like bamboo, sawdust, etc., even paper can be used. At its charcoal briquettes and lump wood charcoal, or wood, are all made of carbon, which is where much of the energy is contained when the plant material is alive and released during combustion.

    Charcoal briquettes are therefore made with vegetable or woody material that has been carbonized. The resulting material is called char. The char is then combined with some type of binding agent, such as paper, cassava paste, even mud can work in a pinch, to create a type of paste which, when put through a manual or mechanical press, turns out… a briquette! The briquette is allowed to dry for a few days and, once dry, it can serve as a substitute for wood or charcoal in a stove.

    Briquettes come in all different shapes and sizes and the trick is to match the right briquette to the right stove because not all briquettes are designed to burn well in every stove. That has to do with shape, density, etc. This means that one size does not fit all, so to speak.

    The other challenging part of the equation is coming up with the right mix of biomass to produce the right briquette. There may be quite a bit of trial and error involved at first, but the goal should be to produce a briquette that burns better or at least as well as charcoal. The briquette should also be cheaper than charcoal in order to have a financially healthy business. And, lastly, the briquettes should be easy to use and should require minimal adjustments on the part of the person doing the cooking.

    To answer your question, yes, you can mix charcoal and briquettes as they are both combustible materials designed for cookstoves. But it all depends on coming up with the right briquettes for the right stove.

    I hope this explanation helps!

    Best regards,


  18. Dear Emuron Moses,
    Thank you very much your comment. We agree whole heartedly with you. At The Charcoal Project we are investing in multiple projects in an effort to identify the best ones so that we can replicate them and grow them.

    Working with partners like Henry Twinemasiko in Rubaare, and Betty Ikelany in Soroti District, and Isaac Iwor in Kampala, our aim is to do just what you propose: to jumpstart a briquette-making industry in places where these solutions are most needed.

    We will soon be announcing new partnerships designed to accelerate the rate of deployment of these technologies in Uganda and elsewhere, so stay tuned!

    And thank you for your interest!

    — The Charcoal Project

  19. Ocen David says:

    Yes, this is what Uganda has been waiting for . Why did this take long to be known.
    Good luck .


  20. Apio Lillian says:

    Agricultural waste have been used since the time of our fore fathers as a source of manure for the farms. Are we not risking having low crop yields and thus hunger if we exhaust all the waste for making charcoal briquettes since most peasants cannot afford to buy fertilizers for their farms? Secondly, a lot is being said about the energy saving stoves , how exactly do these stoves save energy and which are the best energy stoves one can satisfactorily use. Is it possible to have radio programs and TV commercials to raise community awareness about the charcoal briquettes as alternative sustainable energy because most of people who have tried to venture in charcoal briquettes businesses have been disappointed by people’s ignorance of what exactly these briquettes are and thus fail to get market for their products.
    Lastly, i am of the view that just like there has been massive campaign about HIV/AIDS ,malaria etc, adoption of these new sustainable energy saving technologies requires behaviour and attitude change and thus mass funding should be allocated to community education. This i believe would ease the penetration of the market and acceptability of the products. Lets join hands together and not leave this to the small entrepreneurs who even don’t have enough capital to sustain their own businesses. However, Betty i congratulate you for the initiative and your concern about the big problem faced by households in our community. I pray you get financial support to expand this initiative so that you will become a mentor and an example where people will come to learn best practices.Please don’t forget to involve youth because these are the leaders of tomorrow. I hope to visit your project one day.My best wishes.

  21. Beatrice Njoroge says:

    Dear Betty,
    You are one of the unsung heroes. Keep it up. Please get in touch through my email address and since I am in the same kind of social enterprise, I believe we can exchange ideas that can help both of us and others by extension. I am a social worker also empowering families in my community by developing their capacity to care for children Economic empowerment is one of the approaches. Thank you.

  22. Geoff Ng'oma says:

    I am from Malawi. Currently my country is face with energy problems ranging from imported fuels,foreign exchange to high -cost hydro power to deadly disease such as HIV/AIDS.

    There are so many school leavers who cannot find a job and so many unwanted pregnancies associated to poverty.

    I am interested in making charcoal briquettes as one way of helping my government to address some of these issues.

    Is there anyone out there who can assist me in making a good business proposal and how I can find a grant for such a project.

    Thank you all for devoting your precious time to read my article.


  23. Dear Geoffrey,
    I don’t know who is making briquettes in Malawi that you can contact. However, we do hope to in the near future create an online resource that will deliver precisely the kind of information you request. I can ask Betty, the Uganda entrepreneur, if she is willing to share information about her proposal with you.

  24. Pingback:Hello 2013. This year we’re riding the wave! | The Charcoal Project

  25. Shanar Tabrizi says:

    I’m an engineering student from Uppsala, Sweden and I was wondering if anybody here hase any contacts or knowledge of briquette producers in Mocambique (Maputo, Sofala), since I’m planning to devote my thesis to the subject.


    Shanar Tabrizi

  26. Dear Shanar Tabrizi,
    Thank you for your emailing inquiring about briquette producers in Mozambique. I searched out archives and couldn’t find much info on briquetting in Mozambique or any type of similar activity.
    I suggest you post your query on the google group: http://groups.google.com/group/fuelbriquetting/topics
    The forum is dedicated to briquetting worldwide and perhaps someone there can give you more information on such activity in Mozambique.
    Good luck and keep us posted on your progress and your research!
    The Charcoal Project

  27. Maimuna says:

    Can you please link me to where I can purchase char extractor and manual extruders? I am in Mbale hoping to begin briquette production on small scale.

    Thank you

  28. Maimuna says:

    How can I get Betty’s contact? I want her to help me.

  29. Arinaitwe Agnes says:

    Am carrying out a research on why briquettes have failed to penetrate the Ugandan market and i think contacting Betty would be of great help to me.
    Any way to reach her? Please help.

  30. Otikal Kenneth says:

    I bought those briquettes and whoaa, my wife was so excited. We used to spend about 30,000 Ugs ($11) in a month for regular charcoal. However, after shifting to briquettes from Betty I know spend the same amount of money for 2 months. Unbelievable, i spend less by a half on energy because of her briquettes.

  31. This is great news! Thanks for sharing!

  32. You will find her contact info on her website if you visit the project section of Harvest Fuel Initiative.

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