Biofuel and solar power spark savings

Energy-efficient investments are a win­–win for estates and workers and support an environmentally sustainable industry

Since its inception, the Malawi Tea 2020 programme has been dedicated to securing a living wage for the country’s tea workers, whose compensation traditionally includes in-kind benefits such as housing and meals in addition to a salary. Tea producers, however, were concerned that increasing wages would cut into their bottom line too much to be sustainable in the long term. Eager to bridge the gap, one producer, Conforzi Plantations Limited (CPL), decided to explore ways to reduce costs by implementing energy-efficient practices and providing specialized training for workers.  Two years later, these investments have paid off handsomely, in the form of more benefits for workers, lower costs for the company, and a reduced environmental footprint.

Greener practices help increase savings

With funding from IDH, CPL undertook an energy audit from 2018-2019. Auditors studied CPL’s production processes and facilities and made a number of recommendations for how the tea estate could save energy and reduce production costs. CPL also used IDH funding to train workers on simple machine maintenance.  Subsequently, the company has made several changes to its processes, making them cheaper, more efficient, and better for the environment. These changes include:

Use of biomass for fuel

Running the company’s steam-powered tea processing machines requires a great deal of fuel to boil the water. To cut down on the cost of firewood, the auditors looked for ways to use materials that were already available on the plantation, namely macadamia husks left from their macadamia production. Previously, the husks were thrown away to decompose, but now they are being used in the furnace that powers the machinery.

Insulation of steam pipes

In their study of the estate’s machinery, the auditors also found that a great deal of heat was being lost through the pipes owing to poor insulation.

Together with the use of biomass for fuel, the insulation of steam pipes has resulted in a 20% saving in fuel costs.

Use of solar power for security lights and energy-saving bulbs

Another energy-saving area identified during the audit was to use solar power for security lights instead of using electricity from ESCOM, the state-run power company. In addition, with the use of energy-saving bulbs and recommendations on installing energy-saving light bulbs in the tea factory, this has saved the estate 15% on electricity costs.

Reduction in downtime

Along with the audit, the energy training has provided a significant boost to CPL’s productivity. Operational workers learned how to conduct simple machinery maintenance, thus reducing downtime due to broken machinery. Now that the estate no longer has to wait for specialised maintenance workers to make simple repairs when there is a breakdown, it has been able to increase tea production by 15%.

More savings mean more benefits for workers

Making greener and smarter investments has enabled CPL to provide more benefits for workers. Some of the money is used to buy seeds and plants for vegetable gardens to ensure that workers eat a portion of vegetables as part of their company-provided lunch. Before the Malawi Tea 2020 programme, workers were only eating nsima (maize porridge) and legumes for lunch. Adding vegetables to the menu has improved workers’ nutrition and provided them with greater dietary variety.

CPL is also investing some of its savings in new and improved houses for workers, another key focus area of Malawi Tea 2020. Much of the existing housing on the estate was nearly 100 years old and needed extensive repairs. Some homes have already been repaired or replaced, and the estate — like several other companies participating in the Malawi Tea 2020 programme — is planning to construct at least 20 new homes per division per year.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, the health and safety of workers was a paramount concern for CPL, which invested in personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

In each division, we purchased hand washing facilities and soaps for all workers targeting tea pluckers, factory workers, office workers, for our clinic and for our three schools.  Soaps continue to be provided as soon as the one in use is finished. We have also provided at least two reusable masks to each and every employee for their personal protection to the virus.

explained General Manager Atu Kalinga.

As Malawi’s tea producers continue to focus on workers’ health and well-being — particularly amid the ongoing pandemic — CPL can provide an example for other companies on how to make smarter investments that save money while improving lives.



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