Turning a “burning mountain” of sawdust into briquettes

Sawdust waste generated by the sawmills used for the production of Briquettes
Sawdust waste generated by the sawmills used for the production of Briquettes. photo: undp nigeria

In the year 2002, Madam Caroline Adogame, a retired nurse, visited Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, to see her son Leslie Adogame, who was working in the big city (for a national environmental conservation organization). Mrs. Adogame had travelled all the way to Lagos from her remote village several hundred kilometers away in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. On the way back from her son’s office in the Lagos Island one morning, Madam Adogame noticed a burning “mountain of refuse” beside the highway, which filled the whole area with foul-smelling smoke.


  • 200 jobs have been created among the local communities through the sawdust waste-to-wealth project
  • 8,000 jobs estimated to be created within 5 years of the operation of the project
  • 92% reduction in the amount of sawdust incinerated envisaged in five years, leading to significant reduction in environmental pollution
  • UNDP GEF-Small Grants Programme has awarded a total sum of $1,425,625 to 52 grantees for small projects in poor communities in Nigeria within three years.

Leslie explained to his mother that the burning “mountain of refuse” was sawdust   generated by the sawmills of timber factories – whose owners simply set the sawdust on fire for want of a better way to dispose of the waste. And they had been doing this for over 30 years. The gentle old lady was surprised to see such a disturbing sight in the big city of Lagos. She turned to her son: “You told me that you work in a big organization which tries to make our country and our cities cleaner and better. And they are burning waste right there, near your office. Why can’t you and your people do something about it?” Leslie was taken aback by the firm reproach of his mother, a prim and proper lady who always wanted every household chore done in the right manner and every pot and pan put in its right place, since he was a child.

“That challenge by my mother changed my life. After brooding over it for a while, I decided that I had to do something to stop the burning of sawdust not just in Lagos metropolis alone but possibly in the whole of Nigeria,” said Leslie. He conducted some research, did a feasibility study and conceived the idea of a pilot project which would support Lagos sawmill workers to reduce pollution and health problems arising from sawdust combustion by building local capacity to utilize sawdust for making briquettes, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing the quality of life and public health. But he did not know where or how to start. And he had no money or any tangible material resources with which to embark on this project.

The Global Environmental Facility-Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), came promptly to his aid after he submitted a proposal and an application for a grant. With the support of GEF-SGP, his organization, the Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev Nigeria) implemented a 12-month pilot project in 2010 on Okobaba sawdust waste-to-wealth, training and supporting the workers in the conversion of sawdust to briquettes as a cheap but efficient alternative to fuel-wood. This pioneer community based eco-business project is the first of its kind in Nigeria.
The community members use simple, locally fabricated machines to produce the briquettes, which they offer for sale to both domestic and commercial users. The briquettes are used for cooking in domestic woodstoves; by bakeries and other similar businesses as an efficient and cheap alternative to fuel-wood.  The sawdust can also be used in making decorative items like flower vases, arts and craft products, particle boards, etc. Indeed, this radical project has provided a practical solution to the environmental problems and health hazards of sawdust incineration among the poor people living close to the Okobaba sawmill in Lagos, Nigeria. The project is being expanded to cover more states in Nigeria.

So far, about 200 jobs have been created among the local communities through the sawdust waste-to-wealth project.   It is envisaged that about 8,000 jobs will be created within five (5) years of the operation of the project in Nigeria, with 92% reduction in the amount of sawdust incinerated – leading to a significant reduction in environmental pollution and an equally significant improvement in the health and wellbeing of the vulnerable people living in the areas of the major sawmill operations in Nigeria.

To crown his efforts, Leslie was chosen in March 2012 as one of the global winners of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) 2011 SEED Awards. The annual international SEED Awards recognise inspiring social and environmental entrepreneurs whose grassroots businesses in developing countries can help to meet sustainable development challenges.
“I feel very sad that my mother did not live to see the realization of this project, which came from her challenge to me on the street of Lagos. But I know that, in her grave, she would be very happy with what I am doing today in Nigeria to help to make the environment cleaner and healthier, with the support of the UNDP and the GEF-SGP”, says Leslie Adogame, on his return from Durban, South Africa, where he was honoured as one of the global winners of the 2011 SEED Awards.

GEF-Small Grants Programme implemented by UNDP has awarded a total sum of $3,630,000 to 98 grantees for 113 projects in poor communities in Nigeria within 4.5 years.

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