By Marcel Chimwala
Stakeholders have hailed local cement producer, Cement Products Limited (CPL), for a comprehensive corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, which is empowering members of the community in its limestone mining and cement manufacturing area in rural Mangochi.
CPL Chairman Aslam Gaffar, whose company has a cement factory in Njereza and a limestone mine to supply the raw material to the factory in the nearby Maera area in the District, says in order to empower the communities, the company initially donated three sewing machines three each to Maera and Njereza Community womencooperatives and working capital.
“We advised them to build a tailoring shop and we will provide iron sheets for roofing,” says Gaffar.
The company also donated cooking oil expelling machines and refiners one each to men’s groups in the two communities to utilize groundnuts and sunflower seed.
He says: “We gave the communities these oil expellers to enable the farmers in the area have a ready market for groundnuts and sunflower. With this initiative in place, people in this area will have access to cooking oil at a cheaper price as currently the prices are higher because the cooking oil is transported from Blantyre. The residue from the oil producing process can also be sold to farmers to be used as animal feed.”
In addition, the Company gave the Njereza community a maize mill to run it on commercial basis to serve members of the community and staff of the company who stay in the area.
Another remarkable development that the Company has undertaken in its few years of operations in the area is the construction of school blocks, two each at Maera and Njereza Primary Schools.
CPL also financially supports the Koche Clinic of the Anglican Diocese of the Upper Shire, located about 10km away, as the Clinic caters for the mining and factory area which lacks health facilities.
Consequently, the Company is at an advanced stage in its plans to construct a clinic in the area.
“We are working in conjunction with the Ministry of Health which has already provided us with designs for construction of the facility, which we will fully finance,” says Gaffar.
The Company, which draws a bulk of its unskilled workforce from the locality, is also outsourcing quarry and sand for its factory operations from the community members.
CPL spends over K1-million every week on sand purchases from the community and close to K7-million per month on quarry supplies.
“The work is a bit simple for the quarry suppliers because we do the blasting and transport the quarry from the source to the factory on our own. Their job is just to pile up the material,” says Gaffar.
The Company also bought a transformer and electricity transmission cables to be used to electrify the area, and is only waiting for the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) to bring the electricity to the masses.
“I hope the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining will help us in tasking Escom to utilize this equipment and connect electricity to the area, which has big trading centres that can be considered under the Ministry’s Malawi Rural ElectriicationProgramme (MAREP),” he says.
A community member BizwickMakweza comments that the community is enormously benefitting from the mine and factory saying since CPL started its operations in the area, lives of many people in the locality have changed for the better.
“CPL has employed a lot of youths from the area who were loafers before and since it started operations here, our businesses are booming as a part from the company which buys quarry and sand, the employees purchase a number of items from the locals including agricultural produce. We just look forward to them to fulfill their promise of building a clinic and bringing electricity,” says Makweza.
But Gaffar laments the problem of conflicts among members of the community which, he says, has proved to be a stumbling block to the company’s viable CSR programme.
.”It is unfortunate that instead of using some of the equipment we gave them collectively as cooperatives, some of these people are fighting for the facilities which is retarding the empowerment process,” he says.
In response, Oxfam Malawi Coordinator for Extractives who is also a member of Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN), ElyvinChawingaNkhonjera, assures Gaffar that as civil society, they will come up with a programme to train the communities on how to operate the businesses as cooperatives.
She says it is important that communities in mining areas are equipped with business knowledge and skills that put them in a position to utilize business opportunities offered by mining companies other than waiting to receive free items in the name of corporate social responsibility.
Nkhonjera says: “I recently had a study visit to a Rio Tinto Group owned mine in Madagascar where I learnt that communities can benefit a lot from a mine through local participation initiatives. “
“We are, therefore, requesting CPL to allow the local communities offer services to the mine and factory such as supply of vegetables, fruits and tailoring services to supply overalls or work suits to the miners.”
In his response, Gaffar says the door is open to members of the community to supply all the available necessities to either the company or individual employees.
He urges the Civil Society to instill a hard working spirit in the members of the community to fulfill the tasks.
“We would like as much as possible to buy from the community because we believe in empowering communities in areas where we have our operations,” he says.
In his remarks, Coordinator for Malawi Chamber of Mines and Energy, Grain Malunga, hails CPL for implementing a CSR programme which is able to satisfy community expectations.
“In a number of mining areas where we have visited as Chamber there are conflicts between investors and members of the community as communities are not satisfied with the benefits from the projects. It is, therefore, quite interesting to hear communities here appreciating the support they are getting from the company,” says Malunga.
CPL launched its new clinker factory last year and the modern plant is environmentally friendly as it is dust and smoke emission free, and produces little noise as compared to older machines.
The company’s production is pegged at 500 tonnes of cement per day, and its brands include Njati, Mkope and Tarzan.
Among other developments at the factory area, CPL, which employees about 500 members of staff has constructed 40 houses for junior employees and eight for the seniors.