Building jobs from the ground up

Africa Biomass Company (ABC) was established by Willem van der Merwe in 2004 originally as a specialist, high risk tree felling company with wood chipping as a small sub-division. However, after realising that it was common practice for unwanted trees to be cut into fire wood and sold or discarded in a municipal dump, van der Merwe discovered a gap in the market and jumped at the opportunity to repurpose his service to offer land clearing and waste wood recycling in order to produce biomass.

“In the forestry industry, when the wood from trees is harvested, more than 45% of the tree is wasted,” explains van der Merwe. With this in mind, he came up with the idea for his business – capitalising on wood that was not being utilised and repurposing it in hopes of minimising its effects on the environment.

In 2007, offering a viable and eco-friendly solution for unwanted waste wood became the main focus of the business, and from 2009 it expanded by 30% growth per year. Fast forward to 2017 and ABC is still one of the major role players in the industry. Because of this, the company has been named the authorised dealer for Bandit Industries – one of the largest manufacturers of waste recycling equipment in the world and marketed in over 120 countries.

Van der Merwe has also taken up the opportunity to assist large fruit farming enterprises across Southern Africa with the recycling of their crops – a massively sustainable market in need of environmentally friendly wood recycling solutions. “As a permanent crop typically has a lifetime of around 15-25 years, a farmer usually needs to replace about 4-5% of his production area every year,” explains van der Merwe. “In order to assist, we remove the necessary section of the orchard, recycle it and present the recycled biomass back to the farmer. If the waste wood is unwanted, we transport it from the site to avail it for other potential buyers.”

ABC does not only aim to save the planet one tree at a time, van der Merwe’s goal is to better the lives of his staff by training and upskilling them and ultimately placing them in a department within the business in which they excel. “At ABC we believe in the concept that the standard of living of each employee should be improved by the fact that he or she is part of our team. This is achieved through training, teambuilding and a healthy work environment,” adds van der Merwe.

Acknowledging that none of his employees previously possessed the skills required to perform the job, since ABC is the first of its kind in the industry, van der Merwe is committed to train his staff and create employment.
Considering the 130 jobs that have been created at ABC, van der Merwe says he will only recognise himself as being a success if he can ensure that ABC has added value to each of his employees’ lives since they started at the business.  

Willem van der Merwe is a finalist in the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on his business, please visit the Africa Biomass Company website: