The importance of an environmentally friendly potato chipper
Kitchen utensils, farm implements and perfect copies of Toyota spare parts might seem to have little in common. However, these are typical examples of products made by countless small enterprises in urban centres in the South. Not only is the economic importance of these enterprises increasingly acknowledged, but also their considerable contribution to pollution problems
While many governments of developing countries launch ambitious economic development schemes aimed at paving the way to becoming Newly Industrialized Countries, an informal industrial sector has also emerged in the suburbs of many cities. This sector provides cheaper alternatives to equivalent imports, and these products are often better tailored to specific consumer requirements
A lack of formal employment opportunities in the growing cities encourages many urban dwellers to establish their own businesses in order to earn a living. The importance of this informal sector for the economies of developing countries was first recognized in a study done in Kenya in 1972 by the International Labour Organization. In Kenya today, 2 million people (16% of the total labour force) are employed in more than 900,000 such enterprises, and the sector is expanding rapidly. The sector is called Jua Kali, which means hot sun and refers to the conditions under which the enterprises operate. Many work literally in the open air, making a huge variety of products from scrap materials using simple, often second-hand tools. The Kenyan government has now integrated the sector into its official policy plans, on paper at least. Since employment in the small-scale sector has risen by 18.5% in recent years, and has only risen marginally or even declined in other sectors, the government is now pinning its hopes on the small-scale sector to create 6.5 million new jobs by the year 2000. However, uncontrolled growth of small-scale industries will further increase industrial pollution and cause serious environmental problems in Kenya's urban areas, explains Paul Kirai. A Kenyan consultant, Kirai recently visited Wageningen to make his contribution to the rounding-off of a two-year research project on the environmental impact of small-scale industries in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital
The research programme was a joint effort between WAU departments of Environmental Technology and Sociology, the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) and the Housing and Building Research Institute of the University of Nairobi. The research focused on small metal working enterprises in Nairobi, employing 5 to 15 workers. Metal working is the main activity of the manufacturing Jua Kali sector, and these enterprises provide ideal examples of various kinds of environmental impact, explains Bas van Vliet of WAU's Department of Sociology. Metal foundries, where aluminium or brass scrap is melted, contribute to air pollution. Electroplating is the generic term for covering a metal object with a coating of another metal, by dipping it in a bath with chemicals under electric charge. The coating, rinsing and polishing residues go directly into the open drains, contaminating the soil and surface water, as well as causing occupational health problems. Finally there is the noise pollution. No wonder that the area with the highest concentration of metal workers, all busy forging, cutting and riveting metal, is called the Clang Clang area. Most of the Jua Kali enterprises are either home-based or located near residential areas, which increases the environmental impact. Not only workers face health hazards, but also residents in the vicinity. Kirai, who screened selected enterprises, stresses that most of the environmental problems can be traced back to inefficiencies in the production processes, which result in considerable wastage of resources, in particular fuel and raw materials. He admits that most of the production is based on recycling scrap: But the solid and liquid wastes are what is ultimately left over, and these are usually highly toxic. According to Kirai better methods and equipment really make a difference to pollution levels
A bath used for nickel plating contains 800 litres of chemicals, such as nickel sulphate and boric acid. One bath lasts for years but still costs about ten thousand guilders. About three quarters of a litre of chemicals are spilled each day, as the product is hung up to dry after being removed from the bath. It is not only highly toxic waste which is going down the drain, but money as well. Collecting and reusing the spilt chemicals would save eight guilders a day.
Kirai cites the example of an entrepreneur who purchased a new cyanide-free copper plating installation. For mother earth, he had told him, but he would have been able to buy a cheaper second-hand one at an auction
Monitoring the entire production process and measuring inputs and outputs is in many cases sufficient to raise the awareness of the entrepreneur and indicate economic advantages of implementing improvements. However, providing training and technical advice is not the end of the story. The researchers feel that awareness also needs to be raised within government bodies and non-governmental organisations. NGOs have been supportive in supplying credit and training, but have largely ignored environmental aspects. Despite the fact that the government embraces the Jua Kali sector in their policy plans, implementation of policy is lagging behind. According to Kirai, this is mainly due to the fact that too many different ministries are involved, which often results in either passing the buck or conflicting policy measures
In order to shift the research results from the academic plane to the official, the research team decided to organize a seminar in Nairobi for all the different stakeholders. Kirai discloses: By both identifying the environmental impact and emphasizing the potential of the sector, we also tried to increase the visibility of the small industries. Collectively they are often referred to as the informal sector, but many enterprises are registered and pay taxes. Many are also suppliers to the official sector. Van Vliet concludes: The potato chippers find their way to the luxury hotels in town and if you find yourself holding on to an iron bars in a Kenyan bus, you can be pretty sure that these were made in a Jua Kali enterprise.
Free movies at ISOW
The International Student Organization Wageningen (ISOW) now shows a film every Wednesday evening. Next week, April 16, the thriller Seven will be shown. The film evenings start at 7.45 pm in the ISOW building, Duivendaal 7
It is now a couple of months since the official opening of the ISOW building, and an increasing number of social activities are getting off the ground. The student organisation was established exclusively for international students, and they themselves are responsible for running the place and developing concrete ideas for activities. Roberto la Rovere, ISOW's chairperson, explains that a number of games have been purchased including darts, dominoes and table tennis. ISOW has also taken out subscriptions to two magazines, Newsweek and Time. Additional subscriptions are also possible explains La Rovere: If students belong to a well-represented group at WAU and would like to read a specific magazine or newspaper, they should contact the Dean's Office. The request will then be considered.
Special evenings and activities will be advertised in the entertainment tips on this page. ISOW's main function is as a social meeting place for all international students. The opening hours are Monday to Saturday from 6.30 to 9.30 pm
For more info or ideas contact