CleanStar Mozambique’s founders and investors have this crazy idea that they can make the lives of a few hundred thousand people in Mozambique a lot better, avoid climate-change inducing deforestation, and make money at the same time. RP Siegel shared their six-point plan with us back in September, but in case you missed it, here’s the lowdown: pay farmers (who are otherwise sitting idle) to grow cassava, incentivize them to grow some healthier food products while they’re at it, turn the cassava into ethanol, develop an-ethanol-burning stove that hits all sorts of pain points for the women of urban centers who are otherwise stuck with dirty, inefficient charcoal stoves, and, magically, profit!
The project is still in it’s infancy, but honestly, the founding team seems to have thought of almost everything and are pretty darn dedicated to making their project a true triple-bottom-line business.
Andrew Yager, Senior Economic Affairs Officer in the Division for Sustainable Development at the United Nations (and, as an aside, the most humble UN bigwig I’ve had the honor to meet), was on hand for the grand opening of the ethanol plant. In it’s honor, he laid out several reasons why CleanStar Mozambique fits in perfectly with the global community and institutional framework goals that will likely be one of the key outcomes at Rio+20. He should know since he’s working on drafting them:
1. The project is action-oriented
CleanStar Mozambique has identified a specific series of problems (deforestation, health concerns related to charcoal smoke, lack of jobs), and developed a business plan to address all of them. No, it’s not going to save the world, but if it actually flies, it could give 2,000 farmers an income beyond subsistence living and improve the health of 10,000 urban families.
2. It eradicates poverty
Yes, you read that number correctly – to fill the capacity of the current biofuel plant CleanStar Mozambique will be buying cassava from up to 2,000 subsistence farmers. These are people who have access to land, but they don’t farm beyond a subsistence level because they lack access to capital to buy seed and, more importantly, markets in which to sell their crops. CleanStar Mozambique is in the beginning stages of production and has been purchasing cassava on the open market in the mean-time – some of the bundles are two and three years old because the farmers haven’t had anyone to sell it to.
This project gives farmers access to a market – and the incentive to grow crops intended for food alongside the cassava bound for the market. They do this in two ways: first, they pay a lower price per kilo then the spot-price for cassava-for-food, ensuring that if a market for the food cassava becomes available, farmers can still get the best price, and second, by requiring farmers in the program to use sustainable agriculture crop-rotation systems which gives them food crops to eat or sell in addition to their cassava crops.
3. It satisfies the tenets of Agenda 21
Agenda 21 is a buzzword that tends to get tea-partiers up in arms in fear that it means a loss of personal freedom, but that reading of the action plan is really pretty paranoid.
Agenda 21 lays out recommendations for sustainable development and poverty eradication and specifically addresses consumption patterns and health promotion.
It also includes specific goals around environmental protection, including climate change and deforestation. (check and check!)
4. It satisfies the 2002 Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development
The Johannesburg Declaration reaffirms a commitment to sustainable development with a focus on economic development, social development and environmental protection.
5. It satisfies the Millenium Development goals
The Millenium Development goals focus on human health and wellness: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality rates, etc. This project’s main goals are around economic development and human health improvement.
6. Despite being a local micro-project it has universal applicability
This is an interesting one. This project addresses extremely local issues: neighborhood cooking methods and charcoal creation and transport. Yet, CleanStar started with huge problems to solve and then looked for locally applicable solutions like the neighborhood store and rural training centers for farmers. CleanStar and CleanStar Mozambique’s methodologies for setting up the local networks are certainly worth replicating and should be applicable to extremely different circumstances, since, by their nature, they are flexible to local needs.
7. It addresses the local country’s development goals
Mozambique has signed on to the UN Millenium Goals and this project is consistent with them (see #5)
8. It’s voluntary
No farmer is required to participate in this program, no family is required to purchase a new stove. The program is designed to make people want to participate, but they don’t have to.
9. It will catalyze international finance
Thus far, the project has been financed with investments from CleanStar Ventures, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Novozymes, and ICM with several other investors in the works.
While it’s true that a project with this many moving parts still needs luck and a prayer to actually penetrate markets, disruptive ideas are worth trying. That’s precisely because current sustainable development mechanisms are not working fast enough. Even if this particular model doesn’t have the projected success, CleanStar Ventures has a triple bottom line approach worth paying attention to.
Image courtesy Novozymes
Travel and accommodations to Mozambique provided by Novozymes