Women have been making their presence felt in the male-dominated charcoal industry. Suddenly, the world has taken notice as women take up greater roles in the charcoal production value chain.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the charcoal sector has seen a boom in recent years, and is providing an opportunity for many women to level the economic playing field.
Behind the masks and gloves, in the dust of a charcoal packing plant, women hold most of the team leader positions at Jumbo Charcoal.
This charcoal packing plant is one of Namibia’s largest exporters of charcoal, and one of the first in the country to register with the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), the gold standard of quality forestry and environmental practices.
Taimi Ndilimani is the stock and quality control manager at Jumbo Charcoal. She grew up in northern Namibia, and when her mother passed away, Taimi was still writing her matric examination.
“My mother passed away in December 2007 while I was busy writing my Grade 12 examinations. My father was living in Okahandja, and told me to come and live with him. We had financial problems, and so I started looking for a job. I found out that Jumbo Charcoal was recruiting. I started at Jumbo as a packer” explains Taimi.
Taimi started working on the floor of the production plant some 12 years ago.
Today, she is a manager at Jumbo Charcoal, and her salary supports her father, her five siblings and her own children.
“I feel very proud working for Jumbo Charcoal. It’s like a family company, so I can say I’m the lucky one” explains Taimi, who goes on to say that “there’s no discrimination among the men and women here. The work can be done by both women and men.”
Last year, Taimi was recognised for her achievements and awarded the Shooting Star Employee Award at the Women in Biomass Industry Awards 2020.
Speaking at the awards ceremony, Benson Matali, acting deputy director for gender mainstreaming at the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, noted that “the biomass industry is one of the enablers that can help us as a country to achieve women’s economic empowerment in Namibia, and government is cognisant of the fact and the role that women play towards the socio-economic development of our country.”
Creating awareness for the empowerment opportunities available in the charcoal sector, a public Biochar Demonstration Day was held at the Namibia Charcoal Association (NCA)’s Charcoal Village in November 2020. Here, the public was shown how to produce biochar from encroacher bush, and also what possible applications this could have.
Natasha Brinkman, a communal farmer who farms near Okahandja, attended this event and found out about the opportunities this sector holds for women.
“We are so many unemployed women, and we are suffering at the farm” says Natasha. “It was so interesting. We learnt about biochar, and it’s made from biomass material from the field. You don’t pay for it; it’s almost like a recycling project. I could collect the biomass from the field and make biochar from this. It really surprised me.”
As Progress Kashandula, the chief executive officer of the Namibia Biomass Industry Group stated at the Women in Biomass Industry Awards 2020, “the Namibian biomass industry has almost doubled its employment from 6 000 to 11 000 within the past five years, and creates diversified opportunities for both men and women.
“Beyond this initiative, more than 200 women have already benefited from our technical support in sustainable bush control and biomass utilisation. Women can contribute at every stage of the biomass value chain.”