Agripreneur 101: Meet a charcoal manufacturer

Inspiration came from a braai fire one night and he found a surprising income source in agricultural waste. Now Given Ngwamba can confidently share three tips on how to turn a possibility into pay

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Ever thought about taking farm waste and turning it into charcoal? No? Neither has Given Ngwamba, until he was unable to land a job as a sound engineer. He thought long and hard about how he was going to feed his family, and after some unsuccessful trials and errors, he eventually landed in charcoal making. And he hasn’t looked back since.  

A sound engineer by trade, Ngwamba found early on that jobs in his industry were hard to come by. He decided to create his own opportunities and launched an online radio station. Sadly, the station failed to attract listeners.

“[When] you’re in the village, in the rural area, data is expensive. No one is going to listen to you. I couldn’t monetise it. And that’s when I realised I needed to find something else that I could put my hand on.”

Ngwamba actively started looking at other ways of earning an income, and it was when he glanced at the charcoal deck while braaiing one day, that dealing in charcoal occurred to him.

“The guys who were selling charcoal [in] big bags … I think they were getting it from Mozambique because they were close to the border. So I [thought] maybe I could get the big bags and logs and package them in my own packaging.”

With this thought in mind, Ngwamba started his research. Initially, he found that making charcoal was a costly, environmentally unfriendly process. But further digging revealed to him the treasure that is agricultural waste. He went from researching to experimenting, and soon landed on the formulas that made for the best charcoal briquettes.

As an idea, Ndzilo Charcoal Briquettes was born in 2019. The business was officially registered in 2020. Business has been rising steeply for Ngwamba, who has the following tips for aspiring agripreneurs:

1. Focus on the positive

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Failures are a normal part of life. While they can be devastating, they can also be the precursor to even bigger successes. For Ngwamba, struggling to find work was difficult, especially as he is a father. However, his focus on the positive carried him through.

2. Failure is often a teacher

One way to focus on the positive is to think about what lesson a failed venture has taught you, or what you learned about the business or about yourself when it did not work out. “Always remember, there is a lesson in every failure and an opportunity to do it better,” says Ngwamba.

3. Take action

For Ngwamba, there’s no use waiting around for change – taking action towards your goal is the best thing you can do. “Take action [towards] everything you want to put yourself into, regardless of where you are and whether or not you have connections or capital.”

Ngwamba says that, just by taking action and starting with what you have, you can inspire others to help you get to your dreams.

“Once you get your hands dirty, assistance or other opportunities will eventually come. Just work, just put it in action, find a way. [For example], if you don’t have the machines, find a way to assemble the machines or find a way to get in contact with someone who has machines. Just act. Don’t wait for anyone. The other people will come once they see you moving.”

ALSO READ: Agripreneur 101: How to build your own tea brand

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