Igniting innovation, creativity in Africa’s ecopreneurs

Until 2019, the Busa community in Ghana’s Wa Municipal District, much like many others, openly burned the majority of its plastic waste, producing harmful emissions.
Africa’s ecopreneurs:- Until 2019, the Busa community in Ghana’s Wa Municipal District, much like many others, openly burned the majority of its plastic waste, producing harmful emissions. [Wikimedia Commons]
Africa’s ecopreneurs:- Until 2019, the Busa community in Ghana’s Wa Municipal District, much like many others, openly burned the majority of its plastic waste, producing harmful emissions. [Wikimedia Commons]

Africa’s ecopreneurs:- Until 2019, the Busa community in Ghana’s Wa Municipal District, much like many others, openly burned the majority of its plastic waste, producing harmful emissions.

But ecological entrepreneur—or ecopreneur—Minkailu Hamidu Yakubu Silinba has changed that paradigm by processing single-use plastic waste into fabric to produce slippers, bags and clothes.

Silinba and his six co-workers at 3N Silinba Waste Utilization GH, in the Upper West Region of Ghana, collect plastics from designated drop-off points and wash, sort and transform them into nylon yarns by hand.

“I learnt that all the world’s economic actors are under pressure to get smarter and turn waste into wealth. That is a booster for us.”
Ernest Mensah, head of ESO Bricolage

Silinba is also working on an innovation to turn agricultural waste into charcoal briquettes.

“I realised that I needed to fill my technical and financial gap to expand my dream so I kept looking for opportunities on social media,” he told SciDev.Net.

He is one of nearly 450 youth ecopreneurs from across the continent who participated in the 2023 YouSustain Conference in Accra – an event which landed him with the funds to further his business goals.

The event offered participants a platform to discuss solutions, showcase green businesses, products and services, and explore avenues for upscaling to contribute to urban sustainability in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It was funded by the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) and jointly organised by the Green Africa Youth Organisation, the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies, and the University of Ghana and Youth Climate Council.

Silinba’s plastic repurposing work excelled at a post-conference competition run by Ghana’s Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) to support ecopreneurs to fine-tune their innovations and build capacity.

For him, the conference was also an opportunity to recruit a number of women and break the poverty cycle they often face, as well as to engage youth within his community.

Silinba says his innovation is his way of reducing a small portion of the estimated 86 per cent of Ghana’s plastic waste that is improperly disposed of.

This waste is clogging up stormwater drains, rivers, and streams and ending up in the oceans, according to a study conducted by the World Bank in 2020.

Across Africa, plastic waste is “spiralling out of control”, growing faster than any other region, analysis has shown. At current levels, enough plastic waste to cover a football pitch is openly dumped or burned in Sub-Saharan Africa every minute, according to the charity Tearfund.

‘Waste into wealth’

Another grant-winner was Ernest Mensah, whose team has developed insect-based products for local agricultural, livestock and biotech industries in Ghana, using organic waste.

“We culture, farm and process palm weevils, mealworms and black soldier fly larvae into protein meal and specialised feed formulae for pet owners, poultry farmers and livestock farmers,” he said.

His group of innovators and scientists at Eso’s Bricolage want to scale up their regenerative, cost-friendly and environmentally sustainable models of organic agri-feed and compost production to boost the industry, not only in Ghana but across the continent.

“I learnt that all the world’s economic actors are under pressure to get smarter and turn waste into wealth,” he said.

“That is a booster for us.”

He added the grant will support the company’s innovative research as well as an “out-grower scheme” to train and mobilise farmers.

Research conducted so far has shown that palm weevils, mealworms and black soldier flies have essential oils rich in anti-microbial properties that can be used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, according to Mensah.

He now hopes to carry out further testing and register his company’s products with national regulatory bodies.

Valarie Nutakor, who coordinates programmes at CDKN, explained that the grant-winners were chosen for their great value proposition, focused on adaptation, feasibility, and contribution to emissions reduction.

CDKN Ghana is a network managed by SouthSouthNorth, also the umbrella organisation of the Adaptation Research Alliance. SouthSouthNorth supports national and regional responses to climate change through policy and knowledge interventions and partnerships. AlphaGalileo/SP

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