• Home
  • News
  • EIT | Te Pūkenga ACE programme uses simple scientific method to turn slash into cash

EIT | Te Pūkenga ACE programme uses simple scientific method to turn slash into cash

September 26, 2023

An Edmund Hillary Fellow and Social Entrepreneur from Botswana has teamed up with EIT | Te Pūkenga to help the Tairāwhiti and Wairoa communities eliminate slash and create business opportunities through a simple scientific method and co-creative design process that was adopted and adapted in Africa.  

Slash For Cash is the brainchild of Thabiso Mashaba, a cultural and environmental economist, who arrived in Uawa in March this year, less than a month after Cyclone Gabrielle tore through the community leaving damage and debris in its wake.

“There was an urgent need to address the slash,” Thabiso says. “And me coming from a desert, excited to see a beach, and then coming to the beach and seeing a lot of logs lying around, I then asked the people and confronted them, ‘why is it that they’re not hurrying up to clean up the beach?’ Everybody was finger pointing; forestry, Government, this, and that.

“I got them to appreciate how we would go about it in Africa, which was how we would see it as an opportunity. Much as it is a disaster, it’s an opportunity to potentially earn something out of it because waste is gold.”

“The Slash for Cash Project is on a mission to clean and heal the Tairāwhiti and Wairoa regional lands by repurposing wood debris waste (slash) on the forestry lands, farmlands, orchards, beaches, roadsides and landfills into organic biochar fertilizer and smokeless charcoal briquettes; whilst also creating employment opportunities for the local east coast communities.”

Bridget French-Hall, ACE Coordinator Tairāwhiti says it made sense to provide the Skills Builder Training (Slash For Cash).

ACE funding was used to purchase the tools needed to run the courses and pay the facilitators to deliver it.

Three ACE courses were delivered, training 42 people in Ruatoria, Uawa and Tolaga Bay. As ACE coordinator, Bridget oversaw the courses and facilitated a small graduation ceremony on the last day of each course.

“The students learnt how to make each of the three products over a period of four full days, they presented their new skills to their community members, whanau, and council.  Over the duration of the course, the students learnt how to produce each item on a small scale and discuss how they could operate on a much larger scale.”

The process involved making aluminium bucket kilns to carbonise the slash in an environmentally safe way by way of a simple scientific method known as Carbonization.

“It’s controlled burning that’s done in an enclosed container, at a low temperature and this keeps all the gases that could be going up, going back into the drum and burning, and then eventually they become part of the carbon, and form the charcoal that remains in the drum.”

The charcoal could then be charged with something like animal manure, which made it a nutrient-rich fertiliser for soil.

Briquettes are another option, as they burn without smoke making them perfect for indoor heating and cooking. Thabiso says they were popular back home for heating chicken houses in winter.

Bridget says the response has been fantastic.

“We did put a lot into it, but I could always see the big picture. And the outcome was even bigger than I imagined. So, I’m really stoked that we’re a part of it.”

Thabiso cannot speak highly enough of the partnership with EIT | Te Pūkenga.

“What I love about EIT | Te Pūkenga is it takes it to the next level. The ACE program, its design and its allowance for us to bring in various technical skills into the community, is something that I treasure highly.

“Just the entire staff compliment of EIT | Te Pūkenga in Ruatoria, in Gisborne, in Wairoa. Bridget herself has been quite supportive. It’s like having a mother or father holding your hand as you start your first steps and then watching you grow. That’s how they have been to us.”

Each student has been given the opportunity to join the Slash for Cash team and move on to Stage 2, creating a for-profit social enterprise. 

Thabiso is now pitching ideas to local councils, government funding agencies and international government agencies, philanthropic organisations, corporations and impact investors to fund machinery and kilns to go to market and start cleaning up beaches, public areas, private lands and consequently forestry blocks. 

While some community members have shown interest in purchasing the products for their gardens, heating and BBQ, they have secured their first big client, Charcoal Chicken Gisborne in Gisborne.

The team in Uawa has so far bought charcoal briquettes dryer; 250 packaging boxes for their smokeless charcoal briquettes; are doing final product and lab tests to meet NZ food preparation standards; are producing more biochar using 44 gallon drums; producing more briquettes and will soon supply 10 boxes of 10 kg carton boxes weekly to their new client and individual clients. Negotiation with other businesses are also underway for their biochar fertilizer service and smokeless charcoal briquettes.

“If Slash for Cash was mechanised, we could create a thriving business, employ more people and keep our coast clean and green.”

Separate from this project, they are already in discussions to provide another ACE programme to continue teaching grassroots community members basic woodworking, metalworking skills, basic electricity skills and their co-creative design process in order to address their community livelihood challenges through appropriate product/technology and community business solutions.

They have also recently launched a crowd funding campaign. https://opencollective.com/tolaga/projects/slash-for-cash