In coastal Kenya, many households rely on burning wood and other biomass for cooking and heating. This process generates significant smoke that worsens household air quality and harms human health. Dependence on firewood for fuel also contributes to deforestation, a major source of the country's emissions: Since 2000, Kenya has lost about 14% of its tree cover in forests.
Noticing the health and environmental risks of continuing to burn biomass, Kenyan entrepreneur Said Twahir began researching alternative sources of fuel and founded Kencoco. Twahir engineered a process which turns discarded coconut husks into black charcoal. Then, this charcoal is crushed into a fine powder and passed through a machine that compacts the powder into dense charcoal briquettes, which are sold directly to households, retailers, restaurants, and hotels. Kencoco’s products are currently supplied at 150 retail shops across Kenya.
The economic benefits of Kencoco’s alternative fuel are astounding. By providing a longer-burning product, consumers spend an average of 50% less money on cooking fuel. The company has also created a market for coconut husks, a part of the fruit that previously went to waste. The environmental impact is real, too: Twahir estimates that every ton of charcoal produced by Kencoco saves an estimated 100 trees by reducing demand for firewood.
Kencoco maintains a strong focus on empowering the community's local women, who supply the majority of the raw coconut materials and then benefit from selling briquettes in the markets. The company has trained over 30 women’s groups to carbonize the coconut husks and plans to continue expanding.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many hotels to close, lowering Kencoco’s customer base. After learning how to rapidly adapt his business at the Land Accelerator Africa training program, Twahir quickly responded to this challenge by focusing on strengthening his household distribution model. Currently Kencoco products are used in over 8,000 households, and Twahir expects to reach 10,000 households by the end of 2021. With continued improvements, Kencoco is expecting to see rapid growth.