ISC3

AHEZA IWACU – Making a better home with waste management solutions

ISC3 – International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre

The female-led African start-up AHEZA IWACU provides innovative waste management solutions through collection, recycling, and upcycling of local organic and plastic waste streams, turning them into organic fertilizers or plastic by-products. Beyond helping to improve the Burundian waste management system, AHEZA IWACU is also actively promoting a circular economy and sustainable Food systems in Burundi, by training and educating smallholders on bio-intensive and intercropping practices and introducing the “Heza App”, an educational tool on waste management and collection services. This way, AHEZA IWACU is providing “better homes” for Burundian citizens, as the meaning of the start-up name in the native Burundian language Kirundi also implies. For these reasons, AHEZA IWACU has been chosen as our Start-up of the month for April 2021.

Smallholder bio- intensive trainings @AHEZA IWACU

Organic Fertilizers produced @AHEZA IWACU

Aniella and Carmen @Labyllstar productions

Aerobic waste converter machine @AHEZA IWACU

Smallholders bio-intensive trainings @AHEZA IWACU

Bio-intensive practices @AHEZA IWACU

Year of Foundation: 2017

Addresses the following SDGs: SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 14 (life below water), SDG 15 (life on land)

Website: www.ahezaiwacu.com

Entrepreneurs as problem-solvers

“In Burundi, the agricultural sector is the driving engine of economic growth. More than 80% of the working population here are farmers, and agriculture creates more than 50% of Burundi’s GDP. But this development also entails that agricultural production and waste streams are ever increasing. So far, waste disposal practices are unregulated in Africa, and particularly in Burundi, which leads to continuous environmental degradation,” explains Aniella Niyondiko, founder and CEO at AHEZA IWACU. Her journey towards a more sustainable future in Burundi began back in 2016, when she encountered three ladies searching for fresh food leftovers on the street. Back then, public garbage bins did not exist at all in Burundi. The garbage the three ladies went through had just been thrown onto the street, and witnessing this, Aniella decided to help them generate a decent daily income while at the same reducing the amount of garbage thrown onto Burundian public streets.
At first, she offered the women a job that consisted in collecting street garbage in bags, so that it would not wither away on the streets and municipal waste collection companies could take it away. Thanks to her experience abroad, particularly in the United States and Kenya, Aniella knew the benefits of a working waste disposal system including a circular approach. And even though her professional background is in finance and project management, she has always enjoyed working with the community and believes that: “Entrepreneurship is all about finding solutions to existing problems.” So in a second step, she advanced from collecting street waste to also wanting to include recycling methods, which led to the foundation of AHEZA IWACU in 2017. From then on, the AHEZA IWACU team quickly grew into a team of five.

From waste to resource

After this second step was made, AHEZA IWACU then evolved into cooperating with local municipal waste collection companies that are mostly situated in Burundi’s capital– Bujumbura- and its surroundings. Most partner’s business models first consisted in merely collecting waste and dumping it into landfills north of Bujumbura without recycling it. But this method holds considerable health and environmental hazards to the numerous population living nearby the dumps. To help solve this, AHEZA IWACU started limiting the amount of dump site waste by contracting collectors to separate the incoming waste streams. This way, AHEZA IWACU started processing biodegradable wastes into organic fertilizers, because "even though agriculture is the driving force behind economic growth, many farmers lack access to fertilizers. Also, legislation prohibits the use of chemical fertilizers in Burundi," Aniella explains. From traditional composting this system quickly evolved via application of effective microorganisms and more potent anaerobic reactors that efficiently reduce both, processing time and resource consumption into what it is today. And there is more: AHEZA IWACU is expanding its recycling industry, in processing plastic waste into eco-friendly and sustainable construction materials.

Training and Empowerment for local community

Beyond their very successful circular waste management approach, AHEZA also ideated an application called “Heza” in 2020. The app’s calendar function and waste type selection menu on what needs to be picked up serve as a tool to schedule and organize waste collection from Burundian residential households. Beyond this, the app also features educational functions, informs on environmental protection topics, and acts as a manual for proper waste separation. The app is currently still in the testing phase, but it’s launch is esteemed to be happening soon. Beyond the app, AHEZA IWACU is also actively offering training for smallholder farmers, students, and especially also local women to help Burundians build a circular and food insecurity resilient agricultural system. The courses that AHEZA IWACU offers aim at educating locals, and particularly women, on business topics, such as entrepreneurship, leadership, and financial management to ensure their better and even direct financial inclusion and outcome. And because a great number of smallholder farmers living in suburban areas actually do not have sufficient access to cultivable land, AHEZA IWACU is offering them courses on how to establish low-cost, low-input backyard vegetable gardens. This also includes educating them on sustainable agricultural practices, information on how to apply organic fertilizers, and even on how to rent and successfully share cultivable land parcels between as much as 3 to 4 parties for intercropping farming practices. This way, they too can “have access to nutritional food, but also to crops that can generate income today," Aniella explains.

Next up at AHEZA IWACU

Currently, AHEZA IWACU is concentrating on further developing their environmental protection efforts and on scaling their circular and food systems value chain optimization. These efforts also include a new organic farming project that foresees the introduction of effective microorganisms to current farming management practices in order to ultimately improve soil quality and generate higher crop yields. With their innovative approach, AHEZA IWACU, who joined the ISC3 GSS in November 2020, actively contribute to SDG 2 - zero hunger, SDG 12 -responsible consumption and production, SDG 13 - climate action, SDG 14 - life below water and SDG 15 - life on land.