Graduate finds his niche in charcoal making business

Ndzilo Charcoal supplies local and big businesses

Given Ngwamba created Ndzilo Charcoal briquettes which are 100% organic waste.
Given Ngwamba created Ndzilo Charcoal briquettes which are 100% organic waste.
Image: Vukuzenzele

Given Ngwamba, 35, from Naas in Mpumalanga, did not think he would struggle to find employment after completing his sound engineering diploma at the National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa, but life had other plans. 

While battling to make ends meet, Ngwamba came up with an idea of making and selling charcoal through his business Ndzilo Charcoal.

“I was at the back of my house and thought ‘let me try charcoal’. I had seen some people buy it and thought I could get into the business. Making charcoal was not new in our area because residents rely on it to cook during power cuts,” he explained.

Doing research, he found that there is a more sustainable way to create coal using agricultural waste, such as ground nuts, sugarcane, macadamia shells, coconut and waste from mango leaves and banana trees.

“I experimented with waste from my backyard. I carbonised the waste and, after much trial and error, finally made a machine that helped me create doughnut-shaped sustainable charcoal.

Ngwamba’s product produce less smoke and catch fire easier.

Starting a business from scratch had its challenges.

“A lack of financial backing meant I had to make my own machine, with a welder. I didn’t have transport and had to use a wheelbarrow to collect waste from nearby farms.”

In 2019, Ngwamba got a break when the Indaba Inclusive gave businesses in the green space a chance. 

“They accepted my application. I went on a business bootcamp in Polokwane and got a grant to better my model.”

Gradual sales to friends, family and his community gave Ngwamba the confidence to approach the local Pick n Pay to stock the charcoal.

“Local and big businesses loved it. We are also in talks with another local market to have my product on their shelves.”

Ndzilo Charcoal now produces 200kg of charcoal a day, using about five big drums. This is a far cry from its initial 20 briquettes a day, said Ngwamba.

- This article first appeared in GCIS Vuk'uznnvele

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