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Nsheke Straws

A global substitution of plastic straws with 'nsheke' straws used by local communities in Kagera region, Tanzania for taking local beer.

Photo of Sadam Matsawili
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NSHEKE STRAW NAMING

The term 'nsheke' has been coined from a Haya language word, 'ensheke' which refers to these straw plants. 'Nsheke' is a plural form of 'Rusheke'.

I was born in a sub village called Nshekasheke in Bukoba Rural, Tanzania from which these straw plants were commonly found during the village naming era.

I shared the nsheke plant photos with some Botanists who thought that the scientific name for the plant might be Miscanthus violaceus (K.Schum.) Pilg. 

BACKGROUND AND DISTRIBUTION

For decades, nsheke straws have been used by many local communities in Kagera region, Tanzania for taking local beer called 'rubisi' in Haya language. 

These straw plants are commonly found in the bushes of all districts of Kagera region -  Bukoba, Misenyi, Karagwe, Kyerwa, Muleba, Ngara and Biharamulo. 

While most of them seem to grow well on wetlands, some are also found on dry lands and mountains in the same districts and throughout the year. 

In case the scientific name for the plant is really Miscanthus violaceus (K.Schum.) Pilg., they should also be found in Mwanza, Arusha, Iringa, Mbeya, Kigoma, Tabora, and Rukwa regions - Tanzania, with habitants on wetlands according to studies conducted by those Botanist colleagues of mine.

I myself have visited the field and took photos of these straw plants waiting for drinkers in several bushes of Bukoba Rural, Misenyi, and Karagwe districts during the research, idea and refinement phases of developing this idea. 

GROWING AND MATURITY

Nsheke plants can be germinated in nurseries and planted in modern farms for improving their qualities and quantities. For example, some royal families ('warangira') especially in Kiziba Division, Misenyi District used to plant them in domestic farms and sometmes intercroping them with Banana Plants to get the best straw brands. During my field visits, i witnessed a lot of Nsheke plants growing well in same areas were potatoes, rice, cassava and bamboos grow.  

Regarding the maturity of Nsheke Straws, the local experience of burning bushes including Nsheke Plants in Summer (August) and then in the Mid of September Nsheke Plants start growing back and get matured by May next year. This experience indicates that, Nsheke Plants can be harvested in 8 months. However, this duration can be reduced by modern farming techniques like the use of fertilizers, irrigation and other nsheke farming best practices. 

It should be noted that, nsheke plants are recurring, that means at the same plant stem more and more nsheke can be harvested over time upon maturity. 

NATURE AND VARIETIES

Nsheke Plants slightly differ depending on the growing area. Wetlands provide wider straws while dry lands and mountaineous lands provide thinner straws.

The nsheke plant tubes (straws) may not grow bigger than nine millimeters (9mm) in outer diameter in either areas. In most cases, their inner diameters range between five millimeters to seven millimeters (5mm-7mm) when matured, with a thickness of around one millimeter (1mm) between the outer and inner diameter. However, the plants can grow beyond two meters (2m) high with a length of about a meter (1m) tube (straw) without blockage ensuring straw cuts in different length sizes depending on the drink container.  

COMPARISON WITH BAMBOOS

Closely looking at the nsheke plants, they slightly resemble bamboo plants with the following distinctions;

  • Nsheke Plants are more grasses than trees
  • Nsheke Plants are not harder as Bamboos
  • Nsheke Plants never grow bigger like Bamboos
  • Nsheke Plants take about a year to decompose while Bamboos take longer


Frankly speaking, there are lot of bamboos in Tanzania and particularly in Kagera region, but no one have ever tried them as straws in the presence of Nsheke Straws. I confidently commend that, Nsheke Plants were created special to primarily and naturally complement the drinking purpose.

In Tanzania Bamboos are commonly used for fencing (i.e. as can be seen in one of the photos taken during my survey) as well as making cups and containers. 

Thus, it makes sense to use bamboos for Nsheke Straw Containers, and can even be inter-cropped for making straw containers especially for individual straws storage at restaurants and for re-use purposes in user households. 

ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS

Nsheke Straws are eco-friendly. They can be washed and kept for later use. In our local communities, nsheke straws are being re-used even more than 5 times. One have to dry the straw after use, traditionally by inclining it at wall corner. But, this can be obviously recommended for same person using it.

But even if Nsheke Straws get thrown to the land or water bodies (lakes, rivers and oceans), they easily get decomposed into fossils within a year. Their leaves (grasses) can either be mixed with other ingredients to make animal feeds, or dumped to farms to limit weeds, preserve moisture and later become fertility after decomposition. This cycle takes us into a zero wastes production.

At restaurants and other single user points, collection bins made from the outer layers of Cyperus Papyrus plants can placed. Then, the filled bins can be collected for burning to get ashes which can be used for other purposes as they contain calcium and potassium or even dumped into farms for them to gradually get decomposed. And this will be for the sake of keeping our cities tidy. Nsheke Straws Producers may organize some days for public cleaning, by for example saying, when you get $0.1 by bringing 1kg of used nsheke straws.

There are no environmental footprints expected when growing these straws at a commercial level. Everything will be used, from Nsheke and Cyperus Papyrus plants. And in case few wastes are made due to under utilization of resources, the organic wastes will be dumped in nsheke farms to generate further fertility. 

At scale, other Nsheke Independent growers may be encouraged to feed the industry. Growers will be guided on the Nsheke best farming practices.  

HUMAN SUBJECT CONSIDERATIONS

As far as Nsheke Straws will be used by human beings, it is very important to ensure their safety. With that in mind, I sent Nsheke Straw samples to Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) to test them for any harms, and whether they allow growth of germs regardless of them being used by local communities for decades without any reported health impacts.

The Laboratory results found Nsheke Straws to be safe for human use, though when subjected to moisture over time may allow growth of fungi. So, they recommended that Nsheke Straws should be well dried, treated, preferably colored and packaged for safety and hygiene assurance throughout their market life time and that after use should be dried for future re-use purposes. 

As this project officially launches, we will consult the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) as well as other international agencies for public health.  

USAGE AND CARE

Nsheke straws are readily 'cut and use' and can be employed for taking different drinks and beverages depending on their diameters while lengths being determined by the drink container. They are suitable for juices, milkshakes, soft drinks, iced coffees, frappes, cocktails, wines and beers. 

Traditionally, our local communities used to hang Nsheke Straws in kitchens and subject them to smoke for the sake of drying, treating them against germs and indeed improving their durability, strength, appearance (color) and flavor. 

In the modern style, Nsheke Straws can be dried by machines or solar driers. Treated by disinfectants to stop fungi growth, colored by machines. The used straws can then be sterilized for re-use purposes. So, it may be recommended for restaurants to have sterilizers where the used Nsheke are placed for treatment before the next use. While harvesting Nsheke Straws, farm workers will be wearing overalls, gloves and gumboots to reduce human contamination and for protection against possible nsheke grass injuries.  

Actually, with nsheke straws being in place, there will no longer be a need for using plastic straws and even other costful non plastic straws, instead Nsheke Plants should be germinated and planted in big farms, processed, well packaged and distributed to both local and global markets to replace plastics. 

Packaging will include instructions on the best use and handling of Nsheke Straws. This instructions will specifically be placed on the 100pcs package. While individual straw packaging may include short environmental messages, like - "Be eco-friendly, Live Longer", "Save Future Generations Lives", etc.

AVAILABLE OPPORTUNITIES 

There is a lot of unused arable land in Tanzania part of which can be used to establish big nsheke plantations to meet the World's straw demand. According to studies, Tanzania has over 44 million hectares of arable land with only 33 per cent of it being cultivated, as far as of 2016. 

Specifically speaking, there is a wetland of more than 100 acres in the village I was born, near Lake Ikimba where nsheke plants are also found. This makes nsheke plantations possible. I visited have been visiting the place and good enough have picked Nsheke Straw samples from there so there is no need to for soil testing while already nsheke plants are growing very well over there.

I also have about 3 acres of flat land in my home village with access to labors, electricity, water and road I wish I could set up of a big nsheke straw industry over there. I have taken and attached its photos with some materials (i.e. aggregates) already at site. The plot is just about a kilometer from the potential farm (more than 100 acres) mentioned in the previous phrase. 

Furthermore, there is another potential land of about 500 acres, whose videos are also attached. This land is located along the Tanzania - Uganda main road, near Kagera River in Misenyi District, Kagera Region Tanzania.  

Since Nsheke straws need to be packaged, I would go for Cyperus Papyrus plants which are abundant throughout Kagera region wetlands and in many parts of Tanzania. Studies show that, ancient Egyptians used these plants to make papers many years ago. However, same paper materials used for packaging plastic straws can also be used to package Nsheke Straws. Photos of this plant and its fibres believed to make soft papers are herein attached. This plant is called 'sisha' in Haya language, and its fibers are commonly used for binding wedding prizes as pictured. 

FEEDBACK FROM REAL USERS 

During the refinement phase, I have tried my all best to revisit different Nsheke Fields, especially in Misenyi and Bukoba Rural Districts and talked to people living around the places where Nsheke plants grows and locally used.

Importantly, I managed to conduct an unofficial survey through which I interviewed 102 people of different backgrounds in Bukoba Municipal. I showed Nsheke Straws to every survey respondent for the common understanding.

The Survey Questionnaire and Key Findings are herein attached, and data sets can be shared for further data analysis and interpretation. 

Below are the key lessons learned from 102 interviewed respondents;  

  • 74% sometimes prefer using straws, while 22% mostly prefer using them
  • 73% would prefer taking Juice with Straws 
  • 69% commonly find/use straws at restaurants in the community
  • 82% had used plastic straws in the past 30 days
  • Only 17% can track both the plastic cycle and their environmental impacts
  • 53% agree that plastic products cause ecological problems
  • Only 10% had used Nsheke Straws, while 57% know who had used them
  • 82% are ready to pay for Nsheke Straws at the Plastic Straw price
  • Nsheke Straws are not used/known in places where are unavailable
  • 66% Straw Market Segment may be taken by Nsheke Straws, 43% strictly
  • Most straw users are supply driven, as represented by 75%
  • 93% don't know the price of straws, as always included in the drink's. 
  • 82% would be shocked by the environmental impacts of plastic products
  • 99% would recommend Eco-friendly/Nsheke Straws to their communities
  • There are no initiatives to raise public awareness on plastic impacts, 86%.
  • 85% observed many plastics around Lake Victoria Beaches during last visit
  • Majority (63%) believes that, protecting environment against plastic impacts is the primary responsibility of their government. 


Other lessons would be learned through further data analysis and interpretations. I recommend other research teams to study the same subject with a systematic sampling frame, enough resources (i.e. time, funds, personnel), greater coverage and best methodologies for stronger findings.

Apart from the interviews, I also provided Nsheke Straws to some real users found at hotels and restaurants for free to feel the experience. They all enjoyed using Nsheke Straws and wished to take them home, though I collected them after use and stored them on a bamboo cup ready for sterilization before re-use. However, hotel workers at Victorious Perch Hotel, among the best hotels in town found Nsheke Straws of interest and requested to remain with some. 

ECONOMY AND RISK MANAGEMENT

Plastic straws are mostly made out of the plastic polypropylene, plasticizers, colors, and UV light filters requiring vast amounts of resources including electricity, oil and gas extraction to power the plants. 

Whereas, Nsheke straws come from recurring, readily 'cut and use' nsheke plants only required to be cut, dried, sorted, treated, colored, and packaged (by Cyperus Papyrus soft papers) through a simple manufacturing line.

I am sure that Nsheke Straws should make it, at a relatively low cost and hence giving the cheapest eco-friendly quality straws in the local and global markets.

All being said, Nsheke Straws will be sold at around $0.5 (per 100 pcs) compared to around $0.75 price of 100 pcs of Plastic Straws in Tanzania.

With the Prize of $200,000, I will even be able to secure an Equipment Loan (Nsheke Processing Machines) of $80,000 from EFTA Ltd by just depositing 30% of it (equals to $24,000) as down payment, and then repay the remaining loan within 36 months period, with 2 months grace period. No collateral is needed but no cash is provided, they only provide you machines from their/your trusted suppliers. EFTA Ltd has its branch offices in Bukoba, and have helped many Tanzania entrepreneurs with Tractors, Baking Machines, and other kinds of machines. In case you fail to repay, an assessment is made on the failure grounds, in order to either take back their machine(s) or extend your repayment period. I have visited their office and exhibitions several times to learn about their loan facility. Their website link is http://www.efta.co.tz/ 

At scale, Nsheke Plants Farms will be established all over the World to cut transport costs and export/import duties.  

With my Bachelor Degree of Arts in Economics and Statistics from the University of Dar es salaam - Tanzania, I need to reduce the costs of production, maximize profits as well as reducing investment risks.

SCALING UP OPPORTUNITIES

Nsheke Straw Business has 5 major opportunities for scaling up;

  1. Greater straw markets - Local and Global (i.e. USA, 500m Straws daily)
  2. Available land resources in Tanzania
  3. Emerging technologies
  4. Global environmental campaigns against plastics
  5. Uniqueness of Nsheke Straws, and its limited distribution. 


UNIQUENESS OF NSHEKE STRAWS

Why struggling to make what you already have? We already have "ready made straws, Nsheke Straws". Now, why even thinking to use plastic, paper and any other materials to make the same? That's poor allocation and wastage of resources. Neither Great Thinkers nor Great Entrepreneurs can do that!

Idea Title

Nsheke Straws Production and Distribution

Company / Organization Name

Afrosoft Limited is a private company based in Bukoba, Tanzania focusing on ICT, Research, Consultancy, Agribusiness, and Entrepreneurship.

Website

http://www.afrosoft.co.tz/

Where are you / your team located?

We are located in Bukoba Municipal Council in Kagera region, Tanzania.

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

It is obvious that all people wish to live on clean environment, making nsheke straws their best choice. Nsheke plants produce no waste. Their stalks are straws, while grasses can be mixed with other ingredients to make animal foods, dumped to farms to limit weeds and preserve moisture, become manure after decomposition or make straw paper packaging materials. Many people prefer using dried nsheke straws, which can be washed and be re-used several times and when thrown they easily decompose.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Case 3: Straws. According to the WorldWatch Institute, "Americans alone use an estimated 500 million straws every day, well above one daily for each of the country’s nearly 320 million residents." and that "McDonald’s alone provides single-use plastic straws through 36,000 restaurants in over 100 countries." Nsheke Straws is a natural solution. These straws have been used for decades in Bukoba by local beer drinkers, and can also be used with other communities with no geographical bounds.

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

This idea will be primarily implemented in Kagera region, Tanzania. And later, it will be extended to other regions of Tanzania, Africa and the entire World. Researches will guide us on where else to establish nsheke farms and industries overseas.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

While I am sure about the local market, I can imagine Nsheke Straws being the favorite straws in the world markets. The main obstacles for this idea are mostly on getting enough capital, skilled personnel and the competition from Plastic Straw Makers. Getting funds from this challenge, hiring agribusiness experts, partnering with Plastic Straw Manufacturers and educating communities will make this idea a reality. I also expect supports from environmentalists, governments and communities.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.
  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.
  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

Getting an opportunity to work with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will make my dream true - Growing Rich by Solving World Problems. It will help me to reach great thinkers and relevant investors. I will invite investors to join me in establishing big Nsheke plant farms and Nsheke Straw Industries employing many people and machines to plant, harvest, dry, cut, sort, treat, polish, and package the straws. I will also be able to optimally utilize my available land resources.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

This idea emerged from the introspections and casual observations of the local communities in Bukoba, Misenyi, Karagwe, Kyerwa, and Muleba districts taking local beer, called 'rubisi' in Haya language. Yet, the straws are not available in formal markets. Again, this idea gets a kick from every friend I have introduced it to, including Professor Aurelia Kamuzora (Development Economics - Mzumbe University) and therefore giving me a pledge to continue collecting more information about the idea.

Tell us about your work experience

I am a researcher and entrepreneur. I've been working with a research firm - EDI Ltd for over 5 years; as an Interviewer, Data Processing Officer, Project Coordinator, and Assistant Operations Manager

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Afrosoft Limited is a private company registered in Tanzania with number 121712, based in Bukoba. I founded it with my young brother, Mahad Matsawili.

Please describe, in detail, your business model and how you intend to test and iterate this model.

The prosperity of Nsheke Straws Business will depend on the better integration of the public awareness, government policies, environmentalists, plastic straw manufacturers and sellers, as well as competitive production and prices against plastic straws. Partnering with plastic straw manufacturers will translate into reduced competition, conquering their distribution channels and customers. The Nsheke Straws Business Model is explained in detail through its attached Business Model Canvas.

Please explain how your innovation will work within, potentially improve, and provide benefit to the plastics system.

The Nsheke Straw System intends to complement the existing Plastic Straws Systems through the Win - Win Partnerships. Nsheke Straws and their small-format packaging materials do not need the existing plastic recycling infrastructures other than a natural decomposition process into soil fertility. Yet, Nsheke Straw Business may use some existing plastic straw resources like machines, packaging materials, buildings and utilize same distribution channels, delivery facilities to same users.

Please describe, in depth, how your solution will reduce the overall environmental footprint of packaging.

Nsheke Straws will be packaged individually with a soft paper made out of Cyperus Papyrus fibers, and then packed in a hard box containing 100 pieces made of the Cyperus Papyrus outer layer. All these paper packaging materials are biodegradable and therefore expected to automatically reduce environmental footprint. Cyperus Papyrus plants are distributed throughout the World, particularly in Tanzania wetlands, and are only used for binding wedding prizes in Bukoba (as pictured), Tanzania.

Please outline how your design, material, and delivery choices will influence price, and how you intend to address the price increase that may result from this solution.

Costs always determine prices. Nsheke straws are expected to be sold around $0.5 (per 100pcs package)compared to $0.75 (per 100pcs package) for plastic straws in Tanzania. This is because, Nsheke plants and their straws packaging materials are locally produced and available in abundance and need simple processing. And, in case prices slightly differ, that pays for lives. In Tanzania, straw prices are included in the price of drinks (use free) and therefore not felt by most of their end users.

Please explain how your solution will impact user behavior, and what design considerations you've included to ensure easy and intuitive interactions with your Idea. 

Not all people prefer using straws when taking drinks. But for those who do, then using nsheke straws will not be changing their behavior as such, but providing them the best way to live long their behavior as we will ensure matching sizes of nsheke straws as of traditional plastic straws. Nsheke straws will be labeled "Be Eco-friendly, Live Long" to ignite users' behavioral changes towards the better. In addition, no matter if users decide to use Nsheke straws once and dispose or re-use them

Please describe how you intend to use the prize funding, if selected as a Top Idea. Be specific.

1. Raising Public Awareness - Impacts of Plastic Straws, 2. Exploring Materials, Technology & Markets, 3. Establishing the Nsheke Plants Model Farm, 4. Setting up a small Nsheke Straws Processing Plant, 5. Distribution of Sample Nsheke straws.
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Attachments (6)

Prize Budgeting & Project Staffing.xls

Basing on the Top Prize ($200,000), with flexibility to lower Prizes ($100,000 or $10,000).

VID_20170827_Potential Land For Nsheke Farm 1.mp4

Found in Kagera region - Misenyi District, with access to permanent water and electricity, and road

VID_20170827_Potential Land For Nsheke Farm 2.mp4

About 500 acres, located near Kagera River, along Tanzania - Uganda road, with access to electricity

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Photo of Vanessa Sore
Team

Hi,

Wonderful idea!
I think it is great your proposition is $0.5 (per 100pcs package) compared to $0.75 (per 100pcs package) for plastic straws in Tanzania which can encourage higher usage. However, you mentioned the cheaper cost is because Nsheke plants and their straws packaging materials are locally produced and available in abundance and need simple processing. However, have you considered how this cost advantage may be maintained once you achieve your intended plan to extend internationally? Would you maintain production in Tanzania?

Is there opportunity to extend marketing internationally to using the straws for other liquids other than beer? or would you maintain the localised 'beer' concept for heritage reasons?

Cheers,
Vanessa S

Photo of Sadam Matsawili
Team

Hi Vanessa,

Thank you very much for your useful remarks.

At scale, our plan is to distribute seeds and establish Nsheke Plant Farms throughout the World, depending on the environmental/soil support. Growing Nsheke Plants over there will reduce import/export costs and hence prices. At the beginning, production will be based in Bukoba Rural, Kagera region, in Tanzania while research on other countries going on.

Actually, Nsheke Straws are not intended to be used for beers, though locally and currently are used for taking local brew in Kagera region, Tanzania. So, the intention is to extend the usage into juices, milkshakes, milkshakes, soft drinks, iced coffees, frappes, cocktails, etc. Our study during the refinement phase found that 73% of 102 respondents would prefer using Straws with Juices, and this preference may infer to a larger population.

Maintaining culture and heritage is good, but better when improved and extended to cope with the demand of time and generations. Sometimes, local beers have adverse effects to users and would therefore encourage people to protect their heath by observing foods and drinks standards. So, extending the use of Nsheke Straws from local to international, beer to other liquids, bushes to modern farms will sound more than cultural heritage.

Cheers,

Sadam Matsawili

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