Celebrating international women’s day – Mary Kigalu – SHERQ officer (environment) at Kilombero Sugar

“I have big dreams for myself. I am excited to expand my footprint and drive sustainability throughout Tanzania”

Mary started her career with Kilombero Sugar Company, a subsidiary of Illovo Sugar Africa (Illovo) eight years ago as a Safety Officer at “K3”, the onsite ethyl alcohol distillery. In her time at Kilombero, she has risen up through the ranks and now holds the position of Environmental Officer. With a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Management from Ardhi University, Mary has been able to marry her passion for agriculture with the environment and sustainability.

We chat to her about her exciting role in her current position, together with her personal drive for conserving the environment and guiding sustainable development at Kilombero.

Please give us a snapshot of your career so far and any relevant information about your prior experience that led you to joining the company.

I joined Kilombero in 2014, fresh out of university. I’ve always had the dream of working for a big company that could get me international exposure. Knowing that Kilombero Sugar was part of the broader Illovo Sugar group, I knew that it was the best place for me. Kilombero was my first working experience and I have grown so much both professionally and personally during my time here. My greatest achievement was my promotion to environmental officer after 4 years on the job!

One of your first statements you shared with us was: “I am into sustainability!” What does that mean for you personally and how does this passion play out in your current role at Kilombero?

I’ve loved the environment from Day 1! My role as an environmental officer at Kilombero ties into my love for sustainability. Kilombero is located in an area of significant biodiversity, so we have a wide range of fauna and flora, some of which is only found only in this area. My main priority at work is to conserve and protect the environment, manage the impacts of our production activities and ensure environmental legal compliance. This includes the management of our own tree nurseries to ensure a sustainable supply of wood mainly for our boiler operations.

Currently we have more than 43 000 tree seedlings of mixed indigenous varieties in our nursery which are also supplied to local communities upon request or to institutions such as schools, specifically as part of ongoing environmental awareness campaigns in the Kilombero Valley to teach the younger generation to ‘care for the environment’. Through these and other steps, we are working hard to safeguard the environment by combating deforestation. Additionally, we monitor and take active steps to protect environmentally sensitive species and natural areas to ensure that they are not disturbed by any of our operations.

The current Kilombero expansion project to more than double sugar output to 270 000 tons of sugar is a significant one. What role are you playing within this considerable project?

This is a very exciting phase for Kilombero as it will involve considerable mobilization of our existing growers and attract new ones. To ensure that we stay within the boundaries of positive sustainable development, and encourage our growers to do the same, we are guided by a wide-ranging environmental impact assessment which will help me to assist our grower community as they expand their operations. The expansion is aimed at helping the country to become self-sufficient in sugar by 2025 - the number of smallholders supplying sugar cane to the expanded factory is set to increase from around 7 500 to as many as 16 000 growers and this will have a direct economic impact on 50 000 people in the valley

In your day to day activities as a SHERQ representative, what is important in your mind about being able to get along with fellow colleagues, to collaborate with, lead and encourage?

For us to collaborate and get along, it is important that we all align our objectives and be respectful of everyone’s different roles. I want my colleagues to be fully conscious at all times of the environment, their safety and the safety of their fellow colleagues. I’m always trying remind them that to be safe, they have first to be fully aware of the environment that they are working in.

If not perhaps your parents, who has played a pivotal role in your personal development – someone that you will forever remember for what they did or said to help you?

My sister who is now an advocate for the Ministry of Land was a great inspiration in my earlier years. Growing up she would always give me chores to water the garden and the flowers in the yard. Something I didn’t quite like or understand when I was younger but as I got older I started to realise that what I was doing was actually making the environment beautiful. I am now so in love with flowers and making everything around me green. My father was also the reason why my sister and I both work in the land/agricultural space. He was a soil and water specialist and researcher. He loves agriculture, so we always had a vegetable garden and crops growing around us.

What would be your advice to young people starting out and hoping to make it “big” in this business?

Your love for the environment should be out of passion, and not force. Its also important to never let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. Never be afraid to ask questions and always use any opportunity to learn something new.

As a woman, it would be true to say that you work in a male dominated industry – have you had to break down any barriers or typical stereotypes to get to where you are and secondly, how important is it for you to help break down gender bias?

The industry I work in is very male-dominated. When I first joined Kilombero as a safety officer, everyone kept telling me how I couldn’t do this and how this was a man’s job. I made it a point to prove those people wrong. What I would tell all the women was to go out there and give it your all; show your potential and do the right thing. There are many women coming into the same field but not enough in leadership roles which is something that needs to improve.

When you think of Kilombero Sugar, Illovo Sugar Africa or the wider AB Sugar Group, what three words come to mind?

  1. Growth: It’s an amazing place to work for and you get to learn so much. There are also immense opportunities for career growth across the company.

  2. Challenging: Every day is a new challenge and you learn to work under pressure under different environments.

  3. Diversity: You get a chance to meet and work alongside so many different and wonderful people. People from various social backgrounds.

And your next steps: what’s important for Mary Kigalu?

I have big dreams for myself. I’ve worked in the environmental role for a while now and I think it’s time for me to step into a bigger role, to expand my footprint. I would like to move into more of a consultation and facilitating role. I would also love to eventually move into public policy around the environment and sustainability.