Algerians produce 13 million tonnes of household waste per year, or one kilogram per inhabitant, per day. While 45 per cent of this waste can be recycled, the country currently recycles just 4 per cent.
For Kheira Benaissa, founder of Green Algeria, sometimes referred to as GreenAL, this shocking statistic led her to develop a solution to help households reduce waste. She set about creating a mobile biodigester system designed to convert organic waste into combustible gas for cooking and water pumping and organic fertiliser for agricultural use.
“After my PhD [specialising in waste management], I started to think about creating a company to find a solution for the isolated communities and farmers in South Algeria, they lack energy supplies and they don’t have gas or electricity,” says Benaissa.
The desert covers some 80 per cent of Algeria’s land mass and while its access to electricity is the highest in Africa, there are still pockets in these isolated areas with “very restricted access to energy”, says Benaissa. “Algeria can’t build pipelines because it’s mountainous regions and very expensive to satisfy these isolated communities.”
She initially worked on a solution to convert camel dung to biofuel, but quickly pivoted to general kitchen and household waste. GreenAL’s biodigester system offers two different kits, one for household use priced at around $600 with the ability to produce two hours of biogas, equivalent to two hours of electricity and the other for more industrial use cases costing $915 and producing six hours of biogas. The cost is out of reach for a lot of GreenAl’s customers, so the company has adopted a “buy now pay later” strategy to incentivise those without the means to buy the kits. The company has also established a physical location in Algiers and has partnered with agricultural and farmers shops in order to reach the communities that may not have access to the internet.
While its solution was borne out of Algeria, catering to a local need, Benaissa believes that its success will lie outside of the country. It has already been approached by the likes of Mitsubishi and other global companies keen to work with sustainable and renewable sources of energy.
“Our product can minimise the footprint of carbon from 2000-6000 tonnes of CO2 footprint. Countries [outside of Algeria] are paying companies that work in this field of reducing carbon emissions. We are offering a product that can preserve the environment and minimise the carbon footprint,” she says.
Much like its GCC counterparts, Algeria’s economy is heavily reliant on its hydrocarbons sector, accounting for 19 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) and 90 per cent of its exports. Over the past few years, it has sought to diversify its economy, looking to entrepreneurship as a means to do this. It was one of the first countries to establish a startup ministry and the government recently launched the Algeria Startup Fund, a $411 million fund to invest in startups across its 58 provinces, with cheque sizes set at up to $1 million per startup.
But unlike its GCC neighbours, Algeria does not enjoy the same level of stability or infrastructure to enable its startups to thrive. Founders are weighed down by cumbersome regulations and the constraints of bureaucracy.
“It is very hard setting up a company. When I created GreenAL, I spent 20 days between the bank and offices to register. A new startup has to pay DZD250,000 ($1800) to register, this is very expensive, it is the salary of five or six months [for the average Algerian],” says Benaissa, who also struggled to register her company as a result of her working as a university lecturer.
“I am employed by the government, there was a law that we were not able to have two jobs. I had to wait for months before the law changed,” she says.
Although there are more funds available to startups, investment is still a big challenge. To date GreenAL has raised funding from competitions and grants and was awarded the Emerging Mediterranean 2022 Special Prize for Female Entrepreneurship.
“We feel some support, but it is hard to get access to this support,” says Benaissa. “Algeria is a big country and the competition is very, very strong. It is always hard to get access to funding because of the bureaucracy which is the biggest obstacle.”