Organisation makes bags from home made paper, to replace plastic ones   

Eagles Wings Papyrus Paper Mills chairperson, Tereza Akinyi Okidi (right), with two members of the Siaya CBO that manufactures home made paper to make bags. Picture:Polo Halisi
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When plastic bags are banned, as was announced, the substitute should cost the same or less to produce, besides being environmentally friendly.

A Community Based Organisation (CBO), in Kadenge sub-Location, Central Alego Location in Siaya County, has shown the capacity to produce the substitute bags that do not harm the environment, and were also cheaper.

Eagles Wings Papyrus Mills, manually manufactures paper mainly from papyrus reeds, and couch grass, maize husks, pumpkin leaves, potato roots and leaves. From the home made paper, the members make shopping bags and other items.

“Our paper is much cheaper than that made from trees, because papyrus is found in abundance free of charge at Yala swamp,” said Tereza Akinyi Okidi, the chairperson of the CBO.

The supply of papyrus was continuous because it regenerates to full height, two weeks after cutting, and it covers 60,000 acres.  Plant wastes such as maize husks, are also found free at homes during harvest seasons.

The CBO has 13 women and four men, who play different roles in the cottage industry of making the paper and the products.

Okidi, 65 years, founded the organisation in 2006, when it started as a self help group, to assist the women members, then was registered as CBO in 2008.

“The women were poor widows, and I thought the project would assist them have an income that was cheap to manage,” she said.

Okidi was inspired on that line, because while in school she discovered her talent in creative arts, which has since developed through research and practice.

It is these skills that she passes on to the organization’s members.

Together with the members, Okidi has attended various capacity building courses on trade and investment, export promotion, business plan and small business management, organized by the government and other agencies. She was trained as a secretary, and worked for 40 years before retirement.

The chairperson stated the process of manufacturing the paper.

After the raw materials are brought to their center, it is chopped into pieces, boiled in large pans, then pound using wooden mallets.

The matter is then stirred in large basins of water to form a paste, which is spread on board decors to dry.  From the board, the matter is peeled off as paper.

“The paper is then cut to make different products, by folding, bending, sticking and stitching,” Okidi said.

With the coarse paper members make shopping bags, egg trays, file folders, envelopes, office trays, caps and bins.

Currently most egg trays, files, bags and bins are made of plastic, which was harmful to the environment when disposed.

“Our limitation is that we cannot cope with the demand because we work manually, yet with a machine we would increase production ten times,” the chairperson said.

Okidi said they have not succeeded to find a sponsor for funds to buy a paper products machine, that they have established costs sh. 5.4 million in China.

To expand the market, the Eagles Wings Papyrus Mills, has diversified into making assorted traditional and cultural paper bag 2items such as baskets, beaded caps, bangles, paper beads, key holders, earrings, necklaces and ceremonial attires.

In 2014 the Siaya County Department of Culture, gave the CBO a workshop at the Cultural Center, which has helped showcase their products.

Their market includes prominent personalities, students, organizations, researchers and families, who visit their center or during exhibitions.

The national government has also helped the CBO by funding their travel and accommodation expenses, to exhibit their products at the Nguvu Kazi exhibitions under the East African Community (EAC).  Under the Ministry of Trade, they have exhibited in Rwanda (2008), Dar es Salaam (2015), and in Kampala last year.

Through the sponsorship of the Ministry of Labour’s, Department of Micro &Small Enterprises Development, the organisation has exhibited at shows in Kisumu, Nairobi, Siaya and Homa Bay.

At the events, the CBO’s stand attract many leaders, to whom they have expressed their need for a paper products machine, but so far none of the promises has borne fruit.

The photographs in an album made from their paper, show prominent personalities at their stands in different occasions.  The photos show former President Mwai Kibaki at their stand during the Kisumu ASK show in 2007, same to DP William Ruto, as Minister for Agriculture in 2008, at Nairobi International Trade Fair, and in 2014, at a Devolution Conference.

Another picture from last year, showing at their stand, the then Ambassador of Kenya to Tanzania, Ali Mwakwere, during the Dar exhibition.

Other photos show the members with Siaya governor Cornel Rasanga, Senator James Orengo and Bondo MP, Gideon Ochanda, at different cultural and trade shows.

“Some people have expressed the will to help us get the machine, but on condition that we become their workers, of which we have declined,” said Ms. Okidi.

The chairperson said with the machine they would also make toilet paper, chip boards and cartons among others, from the same materials, and would be cheaper to buyers.

“If our dream would come true, Eagles Wings would be a major source of paper bags, to phase out the dangerous plastic bags,” said Okidi.

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