Some members of our team in Lesotho, Australia, Italy, United States and Canada have been working to put together a proposal to the Global Environmental Facility Small Grants Program GEF-SGP administered by UNDP Lesotho. The project proposal is in the final stages and it is likely to be funded very soon. The project involves 8 local and international institutions. Below is an Executive Summary of the project. (Note: the project has been fully funded and is in the first stages of implementation.)

Maseru Aloe Multi-Purpose Cooperative Union (MA) is a community-based mother organisation of 23 different cooperatives. It has more than 200 members based in and around the city of Maseru, Lesotho. It was established in 2003 and was formally registered in 2005 under the Lesotho Government Cooperatives Act of 2000 with the registration number of 1710. Its purpose is to bring together and coordinate the efforts of the member cooperatives in the production and marketing of Agave americana (Lekhala) products. The member cooperatives assist one another financially and otherwise in producing and distributing the agave gel. The main goal of all its activities is to help individual members of the member cooperatives to better sustain their livelihoods.

The production of Agave-products by MA is accompanied by significant amounts of solid and liquid by-products or wastes. Major solid by-product, currently disposed as waste, is Agave fibre, a very strong natural fibre. Currently, there is no data available concerning how much of this waste is made. However, it is possible that this process will generate and discard a number of tons of valuable Agave fibres annually as MA expands its operations. In the long run, this will present a waste management challenge to the organisation. The observation has prompted MA to network with various organizations over the past four years, mainly universities and technicians, in an effort to find economic use of the Agave by-products. This project thus seeks to utilize the Agave-fibre as a component in production of Fibre-plastic composite ceiling tiles. The project however has a much wider scope in terms of waste management since it will utilize waste plastics and paper as other key raw materials for making the composite ceiling tiles.

The project targets the littering and open burning of waste which is presently a common practice in Lesotho and in the city of Maseru. This practice, together with a natural process of leaching of waste is among the foremost causes of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS) and other toxic chemicals (Jiamo et al, 2003, Schatowltz et al, 1994, Sakai, 1998). Burning of waste plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (PE) (commonly used for packaging) and polypropylene (PP) and waste paper can produce POPs such as dioxins (Yoneda et al, 2002). POPs exposure can cause death and illnesses including disruption of the endocrine, reproductive, and immune systems; neurobehavioral disorders and cancers possibly including breast cancer (Ritter et al, 2009). They can also bind to organic matter in soils and sediments and be transported over long distances, far from the source of emission, making their impacts a global problem (Lavric, 2004).

In line with these observations, the objectives of this pilot project are to demonstrate a system that has a potential to reduce waste, and POPs generated as a result of burning or leaching of waste plastic and paper in Lesotho, and do this in a manner that will, in the long term, assist the members of MA to generate income for their families, while enhancing the capacity of MA to create locally based affordable technology that will be vital for the sustainability of the project. To achieve this, MA will work with a network of national and international partners and make affordable ceiling tiles from waste plastic, waste Agave fibres and waste paper. The process will
involve collecting or purchasing local or South African based raw materials whenever possible for sustainability, production of simple equipment appropriate for use in a local environment, making the ceiling bracket system necessary for hanging the tiles in a house, determining the properties of the ceiling tiles and their influences on the in-house environment and lastly, investigating the environmental, socio-economic and market impacts of the project at a higher scale. The cost of the project will be M869,100, less than half of which is sought from the GEF and the other part being in-kind contributed by Maseru Aloe and its partners.

Lastly, MA and its partners will build upon the ground-work funded by GEF to reduce or prevent production of POPs in Lesotho (UNIDO, 2002). Also, this project fits within the GEF-SGP contaminant-based program that focuses on encouraging community initiatives to eliminate the causes of land-based sources of pollution, including POPs, and to reduce industrial waste dumping (UNDP, 2002). GEF-SGP recognizes that in its POPs focal area, ?the technical aspects have remained the major barriers for communities to undertake necessary actions to address POPs? (GEF, 2006, pg 34) and seeks to address this issue. In the proposed work, MA and its partners will not only manage waste, they will start by building simple but effective technology to do so.

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