14 Oct 2019
Tlemcen, Algeria
Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management

Rare is the person who enjoys opening a kitchen cupboard and discovering that — alas — the bread has gone stale. The exception to this principle may be Chafik Boukercha, the founder of Algerian startup Zerdamel. Through Zerdamel, Boukercha plans to convert discarded loaves into high-quality breadcrumbs and animal feed. Boukercha reasons that his business will salvage valuable resources otherwise headed for landfill or the incinerator. “In this way, Zerdamel will contribute to the logic of a circular economy,” he said.

Zerdamel is generating no shortage of buzz, even before its expected launch in early 2020. Boukercha has attracted investment and won technical support from local and international organisations, including SwitchMed. These onlookers could not help but admire Boukercha’s commitment to Zerdamel making a social impact alongside its environmental objectives. The business will offer jobs and training to underprivileged members of the community, helping them to build professional experience and environmental expertise. 

Boukercha traces Zerdamel’s origins back to October 2017, when he heard an alarming statistic at an Algiers environmental conference. A study found that Algerians throw away the equivalent of 120 million baguettes during each Ramadan, the holy month marked by nightly feasting. “The idea came to me to start an ecological project for myself,” said Boukercha. He decided to call his animal feed-producing initiative “Zerdamel,” a hybrid of the Algerian Arabic words zerda (feast) and mel (cattle).

Since establishing Zerdamel in July 2018, Boukercha has been refining his business model. He will train staff to handle each stage of production, from slicing and grinding the leftover bread to storing the finished product in biodegradable bags. From there, Boukercha plans to target distinct customer bases for Zerdamel’s human and animal end-users — restaurants, bakeries and supermarkets will receive edible breadcrumbs, while animal feed goes to farmers and agricultural wholesalers.

Thankfully, Boukercha has benefited from strong support along the way. Government agency ANDI (the National Agency of Investment Development) has pledged funds to Zerdamel. Boukercha also reminisces fondly about the eco-friendly training sessions that he received under a joint initiative of the Ministry of Environment and SwitchMed. 

These relationships continue to add energy to Zerdamel’s simple, powerful concept. A SwitchMed mentor provides ongoing advice; Boukercha’s government contacts are collaborating to design a national charter on preventing bread waste. If Boukercha has his way, Algerians will soon fully maximize their bread resources — right down to the last crumb.

Photos courtesy of Sergio Arze on Unsplash and Zerdamel

Since completing his MA two years ago, David has worked as a freelance writer based in Cairo and Beirut.David Wood
Stalemate no longer: Algerian business produces healthy food by reusing stale bread | The Switchers
Zerdamel Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management
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