Iriaini Tea Factory
Product focus: Tea
Location: Othaya, Kenya
Type: Small producer – 6.000 farmers
Fairtrade certificate since: 2006
Contact: Mathew Ng’enda – mathewngenda@gmail.com


As a tea factory, Iriaini has been heavily dependent on wood as a fuel source. The factory needs 20,000 to 25,000 trees or 20 to 25 acres on a yearly basis. As it takes eight to ten years for newly planted trees to be ready for fuel production, the situation was becoming unsustainable and Iriaini decided to look for an alternative.


Iriaini found part of the solution in the use of biomass, a renewable energy source which consists of organic matters like leaves, sawdust, maize combs, coffee husks and twigs and branches. A machine compresses all the materials tightly together into so-called briquettes, which are then ready to be used. Not only is biomass made of materials which are often discarded and can even have a negative influence on the environment, the energy source is also much more energy efficient due to its lower content of moister, (only 10% in comparison to 20-25% in wood).

The plan was only rolled out last year and Manager Mathew Ng’enda, who is in charge of the project, is still addressing some challenges. One of Iriaini’s main concerns is that the boilers in the factory are not suited for the biomass briquettes. The material particulars can block the holes which reduces the air flow.

Currently, the boilers are therefore fuelled by a mix of briquettes (30%) and wood (70%). A second challenge is the large amount of space that is required to store the piles of sawdust, maize combs and coffee husks.

Nevertheless, the project is now also being implemented on a domestic level. Calculations showed that the 6,000 Iriaini families use even more firewood than the tea factory. Smaller briquettes are being produced with the assistance of German NGO GTZ, while Fairtrade Premium money was invested in the purchase of new demonstration stoves and also to train farmers on how to use biomass in their homes. The vision is that by 2013 all 6,000 farmers will rely on biomass for their energy requirements.


The price of the organic materials used to make the briquettes is extremely low as most saw millers are more than happy to get rid of the sawdust and other materials. Iriaini buys up to 7 tonnes of sawdust for the small price of 1,000 Kenyan Shilling (KS) (or 12 USD). It opted to rent the services of a supplier to produce briquettes at the factory instead of buying a compressor machine. Production costs of ten kilo of briquettes are around 80 KS (or 10 USD). The domestic stoves cost around 600 KS (or 7 USD) per set.


As the project is relatively new, it is difficult to calculate the real impact the biomass has had so far. Mathew and his team are currently developing a system to measure the business benefits. But the project has already proven successful in different ways. Thousands of trees are saved annually and with more families converting to biomass stoves, that number will only increase. Moreover, the new home stoves are three times more energy efficient, making it possible for families to save on their energy bills, while living in a cleaner environment at home.