US eco-stove firm Envirofit eyes EA from Nairobi hub

 Envirofit workers at their Syokimau factory on Mombasa Road. The factory produces 300 stoves daily. Photo/PONCIANO ODONGO
Envirofit workers at their Syokimau factory on Mombasa Road. The factory produces 300 stoves daily. Photo/PONCIANO ODONGO 

Had Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai lived to see the innovations linked to saving the environment, she would probably take note of companies like Envirofit.

The US firm started five years ago and specialising in making eco-friendly products has set up a stove factory on the busy Mombasa Road.

It says it has chosen Kenya as the regional business hub for its products and as export nerve centre. The stove uses a technology that minimises the use of charcoal or firewood.

“To be able to create a quality product at the scale needed to reach the demand from our customers across Kenya and Eastern Africa we needed a regional factory,” said Ron Bills, the firm’s CEO.

“We had to expand to meet the growing demand from consumers in Kenya, and across Africa, and Asia. Kenya is one of the first locations in Africa that we introduced our cook stove, wood and charcoal model with success.”

The stoves can be used at home, in businesses and in institutions, depending on the need and technology. Manufactured from the Syokimau plant, they have different thermal efficiencies.

Envirofit, which exports from Kenya to markets including India, initially was planned as an Export Processing Zone company, but the CEO says they changed tack after realising the local demand was adequate.

EPZ firms produce for export and enjoy a number of incentives, including taxation, but they cut the local market from using their products, which usually must meet certain standards of quality.

“In beginning, we encountered challenges with the politics of the imports and exports, however, with the help of Kenya government, Kenya Revenue Authority and customs we are dedicated to help Kenya grow as a world-class exporter,”  said the company boss.

Like other Africa, the bulk of Kenya’s households use wood and charcoal for cooking, making products that reduce the amount used a favourite. In the regions where wood fuel is widely used, woman and children take long hours gathering firewood.

“There are many different cook stove options out there, but we build ours to last and support our customers with a five-year warranty for our products,” said Micah Allan, Envirofit’s production manager at the Syokimau plant.

Mr Allan says the firm estimated that for every container of stoves they build, Envirofit will affect more than 13,120, people (at an average household size of five), save 86,592 trees, and save families 547 years of time collecting firewood per year.

When he recently visited Kenya, the company’s CEO said Kenya’s proximity to Asia makes it a huge market for the products and regional business hub which gives  it an upper hand in Africa to become the main exporter.

“We began shipping stoves earlier this year to our distribution partners in Kenya, and across Eastern Africa. Shortly after, we began getting requests from abroad and exported products to partners in Cameroon and India,” he said.

“Exporting from Kenya to India not only helps us to grow as a cook stove industry but also paves the way for other manufacturers who want to export to other countries,” said the chief executive.

Mr Bills added Envirofit could be the only company, if any from Kenya, making export inroads to India.

“Our importer in India told us customs officials said they had never seen a product of any kind imported from Kenya to India. We hope to continue,” said Ron Bills.

Envirofit says it invests heavily in research to achieve high quality standards for all of its stoves. The research and development team, based in the US, tests the products if they can be released into the markets.

“Manufacturing here in Kenya, the level of quality of our products is equal if not better than the level of quality product we have produced elsewhere,” said the production manager.

The techniques used reduce wastage and maximise combustion of wood for more than 95 per cent provision of energy.

“The mission of Envirofit is to create products that reduce pollution and energy dependence while yielding health, environmental and economic improvements,” said Envirofit CEO.

“Our new plant  is producing more than 300 units a day with expectations to grow to 600 daily over the next quarter.  In addition to direct manufacturing jobs, it is estimated that Envirofit has created more than 400 jobs in the supply chain, logistics, distribution and sale by Envirofit partners,” said Mr Bills.

Envirofit as the original equipment manufacturer does not sell directly to customers but focuses on producing top quality products and growing distribution and sales with local partners. It is expanding distribution across Kenya and all of Africa, targeting quality partners in distribution.

“With a research and testing facility based in Colorado, USA we invest in creating high quality cook stoves that have a proven environmental, health, and economic benefits.”

To date, the company says, it has conducted more than 2,500 performance tests, 125,000 hours of durability testing, field tested products in 15 countries across four continents, built 250 prototypes, and shipped more than 500,000 stoves globally.

The social enterprise is committed to manufacturing high quality, affordable technology solutions focused on reducing pollution and energy dependence.