Jolis Nduwimana making Banana bags in Burundi.
Jolis Nduwimana was working as a luggage porter in 2018 when the Government of Burundi issued a decree prohibiting importing, manufacturing, using, and commercialising plastic bags in the country. This announcement left almost all businesses in Burundi in limbo. At that time, the market did not have any alternatives. “Working as a luggage carrier was tough, and I had little hope for a bright future. However, I perceived this challenge as an opportunity to change the status quo and change my career, even though it was difficult to start off as I had no money for the capital. I began online researching till I discovered the ecological package from banana waste,” Nduwimana says. As companies struggled to find plastic bag substitutes to package their goods, Nduwimana spent hours on the internet, researching how to produce biodegradable packaging from banana trees.
In April 2021, he launched Warrior Eco-Green Enterprise (WEGE). This social enterprise promotes Burundi’s green economy by transforming banana waste into inexpensive, reusable, recycling and eco-friendly packaging. The company collects banana trash from different farmers after harvesting and transforms them into eco-friendly packaging that composts within a week after its usage. This product contributes to preserving the environment and promotes job creation. Beyond that, it enhances the value of banana plantations. “Before, bananas were only for food and local-brewed beer. Now, we sell and earn money from banana trees that we used to burn for nothing,” says Claver Niyonkuru, a farmer in Gitega Province. Jeanine Niyonkuru, a single mother, working for WEGE in the production department, adds that the company saved her during a critical time: “My husband abandoned me with my pregnancy. I did not have a single coin to buy soap, but working at WEGE now pays me off monthly, and I can make ends meet.”
Raissa Akiteka, from northern Bujumbura, is an end-user of WEGE’s product. She says that eco-bags are her pride and joy. “I use this package because it is easy to carry, inexpensive, and looks like an extravagant woman’s handbag”. As per Nduwimana, who also serves as the CEO of WEGE, 161,288 plastic bags have been replaced with eco-bags, while 185,732 kg of biodegradable waste has been recycled. Even though he is currently manually manufacturing, he envisions shifting to machine production to increase profitability and maximise the ecological impact. According to the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) March 2022 report, plastic pollution soared from two million tonnes in 1950 to 348 million tonnes in 2017, becoming a global industry valued at $522.6 billion in 2022. It is expected to double in capacity by 2040.
Source: bird story agency