Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Namibia: Cheetahs benefit from 'Bushblok' sales

Wezi Tjaronda

The Cheetah Conservation Fund Bush has increased its export markets of Bushblok (smokeless long lasting fuel logs that burn at super hot temperatures and produce very little ash) since it started production in October 2005.

Early this year CCF Bush (Pty) Ltd, which manufactures the eco log, was only exporting to the UK. At present the company, that employs 24 staff at the factory and contract workers, has exported 700 tons since production to England, Ireland, Poland and South Africa.

Project Director of CCF Bush, Dr Bruce Brewer, said last week that negotiations are ongoing to expand to other markets such as Germany and Belgium.

The project was started five years ago to help create an environment in which the cheetah could hunt in a natural habitat that is cleared of invader bush while providing economic incentives to clear some parts of the over-bushed areas.

The log is made from invader bush that is cut into pieces and put through an extrusion process and then put into bundles, wrapped and sold.

Although it helps open up the habitat, using the invader bush also improves the use of the land, as it becomes more productive and ensures the farmer more money and a harmonious co-existence with the cheetah.

With bush encroachment said to have infested over 26 million hectares of land in Namibia, which has in turn has reduced the land's carrying capacity by as much as 100 percent, studies indicate that about 10 metric tons per hectare of excess wood biomass are available for production, which could provide over 100 million tons of raw materials available for production.

According to the CCF, with one production plant processing about 5 000 tons per year, there is sufficient raw material available for many such projects. But Brewer said it is still too early to say whether the plant could be replicated because the briquette market is quite price sensitive.

"Bushblok benefits from its association with the not-for-gain Cheetah Conservation Fund. This does help sales but is offset by the costs of shipping from Namibia to foreign markets," explained Brewer, adding that without the support of USAID and CCF start-up costs would be prohibitive.

Namibia is the only country that uses the thorn bush to make briquettes although there are similar operations in many countries. While only Bushblok is produced at present from invader bush, other potential products are garden mulch, animal feed, wood fuel pellets and composite wood and electricity generation.

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