Bringing mahangu residue to life

By Philani Nkomo
September 2015
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When people hear of mahangu (a vernacular Oshiwambo name for millet crop) what pops in their minds is staple food for most people from the Northern parts of the country. But, does anyone ever think of what its residue can do for the economy?

Onankali Mahangu Paper Making Project (OMPMPCO), a community project funded by a small community near Ondangwa, has found a way of recycling mahangu residue to make paper products.

The Onankali community thought out of the box and came up with an idea that others would never dream of their entire lives. Out of the stalks and leaves of the mahangu crop that are rendered useless by many, they produce photo albums, fridge magnets, bookmarks, conference folders, stationery, wallets, cards, envelopes and gift pouches. The community also produces A5 and A6 notebooks as well as A2, A3, and A4 sheets.

They then sell these products to tourists, locals and buyers in South Africa and Sweden. Project Manager, Abraham Shikongo, says OMPMPCO’s clients are made up mostly of tourists visiting Namibia as well as artisan craft shops throughout the country.

He also mentions that the project does not only boost the tourism sector but also provides the community with employment opportunities.

“Our project gives back to the community by providing employment for members of the community. We also provide income to the farmers in our community by purchasing mahangu stalks from them and use the profits to reinvest it into the community by creating a computer literacy school as well as a sewing school,” says Shikongo.

He says OMPMCO also provides free training to the youth in the community who would like to learn about the Mahangu paper making process as well as office administration duties.

OMPMPCO employs unskilled labour on condition that the workers are self-motivated and hard working, as that is the best fit for the project.

“Creativity is another skill we require because we are constantly trying to bring new ideas and ways to improve our products,” he says.

Shikongo says OMPMCO was formed on May 20, 2002 and it created 10 job opportunities. Most of the recruits for the positions were community members of Onankali.

The members of OMPMCO received different types of training from Rossing Foundation and the University of Namibia (Unam) Northern Campus to acquire skills in small business development that enable them to coordinate the production processes and meeting orders.

They were trained in fiber preparation, paper casting and drying techniques, decoration effectives and lino printing, product design adaptation and specification, mixing of paints and pigments, silkscreen preparation and management, silkscreen printing processes, care of paper making and printing equipment, production management and monitoring, bookkeeping and controlling marketing and pricing.

“The owners of OMPMCO, who are also members, have up to 13 years of experience in the entire mahangu paper making process. They successfully completed a course on small and macro enterprise development on how to start and improve income generation activities,” Shikongo says.

He says the process starts with collecting or buying mahangu stalks from the farmers, then pounding and cutting them into small pieces in order to facilitate the boiling.

In addition the boiled and cooked stalks are washed and rinsed, squeezing the water out so they can be pounded again to make them easier to enable the grinding machine to crush them into a pulp. The fibre is then mixed together with recycled paper pulp.

The residual water is then squeezed out and the paper is laid down on top of a board and is left to dry for at least two days.

He also adds that the advantage of pure mahangu paper is that it is much harder than the recycled paper and is ideal for making items such as book covers and lever files. Shikongo says that this paper that OMPMPCO produces is hand-made but there is an idea in the pipeline to establish a paper-manufacturing factory.

However, OMPMPCO faces challenges of a lack of building material for the factory and vehicles for transportation. Production is also strained by the absence of paper-making, envelope-making, and toilet papermaking machines.