Kayonza maker of furniture from banana stems and grass triggers regulation

By Jean d’Amour Mugabo
On 13 February 2018 at 07:25

Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) is working on standards guidelines for the innovation of a Kayonza-based maker of furniture from banana stems and grass.

Cleophas Habiyaremye, a carpenter and owner of Atelier Umuvanganzo Ltd based in Mukarange Sector of Kayonza District, says lack of authorisation has impeded the implementation of his innovation for long. He also makes the glue he uses in making fibreboards and says his innovation will save the environment, earn farmers twice as they sell crops waste and provide Rwandans with cheaper furniture yet of similar quality to imported MDF furniture.

Speaking to IGIHE on Friday, Ms. Athanasie Mukeshiyaremye, Manager of National Standards Division at RSB, said a team from her office visited Habiyaremye recently to collect data and are collecting more data to help draft the guidelines which will govern furniture industry in the country. The team visited him last month.

“We wanted to see how he does it and how to help him improve standards of his operations and put in place guidelines for his innovation. We are now collecting data for the standards guidelines for him and entire furniture industry. When someone brings a new product, we examine it and compare with the technology in place around the world. It will be a document to guide all Rwandans in that field, so it takes time, at least four months but a maximum period is six months,” she said.

Mukeshiyaremye said RSB will engage the innovator in drafting the guidelines which will be presented to different organs in the field like industrialists and researchers for their contribution.

“When RSB enacts the guidelines, we shall assess if Habiyaremye’s innovation meets the standards and give him certification for him to develop operations. He is the first person to come up with such innovation. We are closely following up to make sure we help him develop that innovation,” she added.

Habiyaremye says, “Once I get the authorisation, I will embark on full commercial production of least 10,000 fibreboards of 1.2m (width) per 2.4m (height) per day.”

Technicians from National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) also visited Habiyaremye last month and took sample of his products but the agency did not want to give a comment by press time.

Kayonza District Mayor Jean Claude Murenzi said the innovation, the first of its kind in Rwanda, will contribute to environmental conservation by saving the trees being harvested for furniture.

“We know his innovation. It is important because he uses materials available around in the community, so NIRDA is in the position to help us develop that innovation. They have already visited him and we look up to seeing him start operations. If his innovation is developed into significant operations, it will save the environment. The district also considers supporting him as it does for others with creativity,” he said.

Idea conception

Habiyaremye, who retired from the armed forces in 2005, was sponsored by the Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission in 2007 to undertake a six-month carpentry course.

He opened his first carpentry workshop in 2008 with Rwf7,000 start-up capital, which he used to buy working tools like a saw, plane and square.

“I started by making ordinary benches, chairs and tables that I sold in the neighbourhood. I was lucky that after two weeks in operations, I got an order to make a sideboard at Rwf200,000, from which I earned Rwf80,000 interest that I ploughed back into the business,” says Habiyaremye, 47.

Considering the high cost of wood and scarcity of the trees in his area, and in Rwanda generally, Habiyaremye was worried that this could one day affect his carpentry business due to the lack of raw materials. This is how he started looking at wood substitutes for making furniture. He says the first time he attempted converting banana stems into fibreboards was in 2012.

“I read about how the Chinese were making Medium-Density Fibreboard (MDF) by moulding and compacting sawdust, so I conceived this idea of pressing dry banana fibres using glue, which I could wrap with the finishing materials that resembles the treasured Libuyu wood,” he says.

Habiyaremye says he thought of how to improve fibreboards and borrowed a hydraulic press machine from a German friend in the City of Kigali.

“I used the machine to mould a fresh banana stem, pressed the product until it became fibreboard from which I made a table. I have for long been challenged by lack of authorisation and finances to buy a similar machine. NIRDA technicians have visited me three times since 2015 but I am yet to receive an authorisation,” the father of five told IGIHE last week.

He is setting up a Rwf127 million workshop and has so far put in about Rwf30 million from his means, saying that lacking access to banks’ finances has hindered him from completing the workshop.

Future plans

Habiyaremye plans to start a vocational training centre (VTC) to share his skills with other interested Rwandans when the fibreboard-making project goes operational.

“I am waiting for NIRDA and RSB authorisations which will help me complete the talks with WDA (Workforce Development Authority) on financial support for training 100 future employees in my factory. I also want to write books in the future to share my knowledge and skills with fellow countrymen and women, as well as the world,” he says.

The innovation is likely to turn agricultural waste into a gold mine whereby farmers will sell banana stems, crops’ stalks, grasses weeded from their farms and other grasses, fresh or dry, that people are currently cutting and throwing away from their compounds and playgrounds. The factory will also buy plastic bags waste for melting them to make some glue.

“I am also making glue from these environmental polluting plastic materials like bottles and bags. I am protecting the environment by collecting and melting those polluters. The way I make this glue is environmental friendly. It does not produce smokes as I boil the plastics in a covered saucepan and no bad smell this produces. I plan to have machinery doing all this I am currently doing manually,” he says.

Habiyaremye says he plans to sell his MDF at Rwf15,000 while imported MDF is at Rwf45,000 yet both have equal size of 1.2m per 2.4m.

“I’m also in talks with IPRC East management for working together with their technicians to make our own hydraulic machine which can make fibreboards from grasses. I target to do all these operations using local materials and machinery. That will be the best legacy I can leave behind to Rwandans,” he adds.

The innovator pleads with the government to commit significant support for research and compel banks to launch loan scheme for research.

Habiyaremye displays the fibreboard he made in the early stages back in 2012 before shifting from attaching together banana stems to grinding them and use powder to make fibreboards
Habiyaremye proves how his boards are water resistant by putting one in water
These are the raw materials that Habiyaremye uses to make fibreboards
Habiyaremye demonstrates how he makes glue from plastic bottles and mixes it with grasses powder to make fibreboards. He was attending an exhibition in Kayonza in September 2017.
Habiyaremye displays fibreboards he made from banana stems as samples of his innovation
Habiyaremye explains how he makes fibreboards from banana stems and other grasses
He displays a polished board that is water resistant
How his fibreboards look after adding the finishing materials