Many slum dwellers do not have a lot of alternatives. With no or limited educational qualifications and access to loans to start decent businesses, they resort to informal manual labour while others take up crime. Most of them are trapped in a poverty cycle. But some, as AUSTINE JERE writes, eke out a clean living from a dirty element of Chinsapo slums in Lilongwe.
Naturally, the sight of a person at this deserted and abandoned site just outside Chinsapo Market in Lilongwe attracts inquisitive eyes. Those in a hurry would easily dismiss such person as insane.
The site is littered with plastic bags flying in the wind and flapping from shrubs like little flags.
Rhoda Siyani spends most of her days on the site. She is as sane as a church elder. Her dirty tools and clothes are a result of the work she does.
“I make manure. I cook waste. The dirt you see here is money,” she said, pointing at several heaps of rubbish.
Siyani, originally from Tradition Authority Kalembo in Balaka, cannot recall when she settled in Chinsapo or when she was born. All she knows is that she grew up and married in the township.
She said she used to sell charcoal at Chinsapo Market and ventured into manure manufacturing in 2010. She grows corn and groundnuts on the family land on the northern bank of Lilongwe River and has seven children to tend to.
“Manure takes long to mature but it is more profitable than selling charcoal,” said Siyani.
Every day she enters the market with an empty, dirty green bucket, tellingly certain that she has nothing to sell.
She picks and packs refuse pieces; anything dumped there, her bucket swallows; banana skins, cabbage envelops, potato stalks and peels, rotten onions and squeezed tomatoes.
“Once enough refuse is gathered, it is watered and covered with plastic bags so that it heats up and decays,” she said.
The waste is thrown into an “oven,” and it takes six months for the ‘dough’ to bake. Siyani said she visits the site regularly to turn the waste so that decomposition is uniform.
Siyani learnt the skills of this hidden treasure from the Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE) four years ago.
As part of its sanitation and women empowerment lobby, CCODE trained some women to keep them economically oiled while simultaneously aiding the city’s cleanliness.
Initially, the women were divided into two groups, each with its own manufacturing style. One group produced manure by sieving waste while the other did it by baking.
Siyani was a member of the fist group.
“Sieved manure was less effective compared to the cooked material. So, it was not very profitable,” recalled Siyani.
Expectedly, members gradually relocated to the other group until the sieving process died out.
So, Siyani is not alone in the trade; it is a dozen-member factory but each member performs individually. No wonder, the group has no name.
Siyani said previously Chinsapo Market was always filthy. The Lilongwe City Council rarely collected refuse in the township.
“Flies would be feasting and buzzing everywhere and the place was stinking,” she said.
But now, Siyani has usurped the city’s duty and has done so productively. The manure she bakes is universally effective. It discriminates no crop, favours no land and denies no weather.
“The manure is more efficient than chemical fertiliser. Its effectiveness lasts at least two years,” she said.
Mainly, the manure is sold to Four Seasons Nurseries in Lilongwe where botanists use it for nourishing flowers.
“A 20-litre pail sells at K150 and the entire heap can fetches about K25 000 (about $62.50),” she said.
Siyani’s family is big. She feeds and shelters seven of her children, one of whom needs school fees.
“My house was a small, grass-thatched structure, but I have expanded and iron-roofed it,” she said.
Manure has enabled her to buy television and radio sets, so she no longer has to go to the neighbours for radio dramas and television soaps.
Siyani also pays school fees for her last born son at Chikhandwe Community Day Secondary School.
The business is not all rosy, though.
The manufacturing site is not spacious and it is far from water sources. Siyani draws water from Lilongwe River which is about a kilometre away.
She tries to bake more heaps during the rainy season but the space limits her as the same small piece of land has to take 12 other people who are also in the manure business.
“It’s tiresome to ascend the distance from the river to here with a water bucket on your head,” she said.
After being baked, the manure needs grading as well. Siyani said buyers do not like manure mixed with stone, plastic bags and some unwanted pieces.
Siyani said all manufacturers she knows sell the product at Four Season. As a result, the seller does not determine the price, but the buyer.
She knows the effort she puts deserves more, but she remains satisfied with the current rates.
Siyani is so much in love with what she does such that she does not see herself outside the business.
The manure manufacturing project is also being implemented in Mtandire and Area 23 in Lilongwe.