Some rural areas of Zimbabwe are currently in a state of disaster after being hit by a severe drought. But there is hope that a new Practical Action project in the country using solar power to irrigate land could help overcome the problems that climate change is causing.
A couple of hours’ drive from Gwanda in the south west of Zimbabwe, close to the border with Botswana, you come across an extraordinary sight. A bank of solar panels – 400 in total – make for a dazzling spectacle under Mashaba’s blazing midday sun.
They constitute Zimbabwe’s largest off-grid solar farm and are heralding a new era in solar power for some of Africa’s most marginalised communities.
For Winnie Sebata, 67, retired school teacher turned budding entrepreneur, energy access has come at a perfect time. “We really hope this project will change the lives of this community and the lives of people of Zimbabwe. So we are lucky to have been chosen. We are 8km from the border, so hopefully cross-border traffic will open up more business opportunities”.
Electrification has given Mr & Mrs Sebata the chance to diversify their retail business, selling meat from local farmers, opening a hairdressers and providing a range of solar powered products to meet growing local demand.
Practical Action is leading a consortium of public and private partners both to deploy the technology in Mashaba and develop a sound business model to establish viable mini grids. With the majority of up-front investment for the 99kW project being met by the European Union, the four year project to install and bed down the scheme is well under way.
Apart from the Sebata’s business, the other early beneficiaries include the health clinic, the primary school, local smallholder farmers and several energy kiosks. By 2019, the grid will be serving more than 10,000 people in the surrounding area.
According to Shepherd Masuka, Practical Action’s project technician (pictured above), the imminent arrival of pre-payment meters to aid the collection of fees will enable users to be charged for their electricity usage, with subsidised rates for the school and the clinic. Reliable revenue will allow for on-going maintenance of the grid with an estimated payback period of between 8-10 years.
The Mashaba scheme is just one of a growing number of such developments. A recent Economist article (Follow The Sun, April 16th 2016), highlighted the growth of solar power across the developing world with growing demand for energy, the falling price of solar panels (80% in the past five years) and technological improvements in generation and storage contributing to that growth.
Lessons are still being learned about improving the policy environment, providing access to finance across the value chain and protecting consumer’s rights. But certainly for Mr and Mrs Sebata, their new business venture looks to have a very bright future indeed.
For more information on Practical Action’s work towards universal access to modern energy services for all, visit us at https://practicalaction.org/energy3 Comments » | Add your comment
At the end of December I’ve chosen to leave Practical Action after 15 years. For me it’s time for a new challenge and I’ll start 2016 full of the spirit of adventure – news of any challenging opportunities gratefully received. I’m excited to explore what next.
But I leave too with great hope and great sadness.
Hope because of the transformation I’ve seen in the lives of people who work together with Practical Action across Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Because of the brilliance of our education work which is helping European citizens think differently about technology, poverty, and our world. We need to work for a changed world together.
And because of our work at Practical Action on knowledge – maximising the impact of everything we do, and helping others share their learning through podcasts, answering enquiries on a one to one basis often face to face, our call centre serving farmers and fisherfolk in Bangladesh, web based info in Peru….. and so much more. I first came to know Practical Action through Practical Action Publishing and remain a huge fan. Today our work on knowledge – sharing rather than hoarding – helps millions of people each year. It’s just amazing!
I not only hope, but know, Practical Action will continue to make a difference in our world – providing practical solutions to poverty, working together with communities, sharing learning and respecting the finite nature of our planet.
But I also feel sadness.
Sadness because I leave a great group of people – committed individually and as a global organisation to helping communities escape poverty. Their passion, hard work, dedication to inclusive development is just amazing. I will miss all of the Practical Action teams for different reasons – but the golden thread throughout is their commitment.
Sadness too because I’ve had some great times – I remember listening to two amazing children in a remote village in Bangladesh talk not only about Practical Action but their aspirations for their lives, laughing with women in Zimbabwe building a micro hydro who when I tried to help discovered how weak I am, and the posher things too – talking at conferences, meetings with our Patron, HRH, The Prince of Wales, exploring ideas and work with big business, even being forced to give impromptu speeches in various parts of the world. I’ll miss lots of things I’ve got to do with Practical Action – it’s been challenging, exciting and fun.
But my biggest sadness is that we haven’t achieved what we set out to do – the lives of many people are better, access to energy for poverty reduction is now firmly on the global agenda, and indoor air pollution ‘Smoke – The killer in the Kitchen’ (the first Practical Action campaign I led – together with the brilliant team) is recognised as a major health hazard – but technology – which could help so many people and issues, is still is developed primarily to meet the wants of the rich not the needs of all and our planet. I am not in any way arguing that technology is all that’s needed to change our world but technology is a lever, a way of making a difference in a big way – people talk about systemic change (big picture, the long term). Technology can be a driver of systemic change – a different approach to technology, one that focused on the big challenges in our world would be soooo exciting!
One of the things I like about Practical Action is that we work with the pragmatic, the possible, the now, but we also dream of bigger change – a world where technology is used to help end poverty and protect our planet.
Whatever I do next I will continue painting a picture of the exciting and different way our world could be.
And finally in what’s turned out to be a much longer piece than I imagined – I want to say goodbye to our supporters – you have inspired, challenged, enthused and humbled me, and you are brilliant!
Have a wonderful Christmas. And I hope we all – around the world – have a brilliant and peaceful 2016.
Ps The picture is of a boy in Darfur, Sudan where I saw some of the most amazing work Practical Action was doing in the middle of conflict, and through our work trying to lessen conflict. Reminded me that change is possible.4 Comments » | Add your comment
Have the global negotiations for a new climate agreement switched from a marathon to an egg and spoon race?
We are now in the final leg of the marathon negotiations for a new climate agreement. At the last meeting in Bonn, the negotiators were expected to intensify their pace, but by the end of the meeting it was clear no one had sped up, if anything the pace had slowed. We are now entering the final sprint to the line. In 5 days the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in Paris. Without a sprint finish it is unlikely that an effective Paris Protocol will be signed.
The Great Climate Race is just one example of what communities around the world are doing to tackle climate change. A fund raising run/walk to raise money for community solar power, because climate change is a race against time!
So what are the core stumbling blocks in the way of delivering a Paris Protocol?
The first barrier is a long standing one around whether developed and developing nations should be treated differently. The issue known as “differentiation” remains a significant hurdle. To be effective the new agreement must build on the original convention text around common but differentiated responsibilities. But it must update the text to match today’s reality and be dynamic to evolve as the world changes. Historical emissions must not be ignored, but the changing dynamics of global emissions means that the text must be flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances.
The second barrier is around finance. For poor and developing nations allocating sufficient resources will be vital to deliver the agreement. At the Copenhagen COP in 2009 developed countries committed to mobilise jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020. A lack of clarity around these contributions, double counting of existing development assistance and the role of the private sector all continue to hinder progress in this respect.
Thirdly, Loss and Damage continues to divide parties. Some countries hope to see it embedded within the heart of the agreement, while others suggested it should be removed. Lack of action to reduce emissions will lead to a greater need for adaptation. Lack of finance for adaptation will lead to accelerating Loss and Damage. The logic is clear, but still Loss and Damage fails to receive the recognition and importance it deserves.
The Paris COP is supposed to light the way for governments to finally deliver an effective global response to the threat of climate change. However, to avoid another failed UN sponsored global conference it will be vital for politicians to put in the additional legwork to make the Paris Protocol a reality.
We don’t just want an agreement, we need a robust agreement that delivers. Human rights, gender equality and the issue of a just transition must be central to the agreement. A human rights centred agreement offers a holistic approach that makes the connections between the economic, social, cultural, ecological and political dimensions, and links what we are doing to tackle climate change with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction. Is this too much for our children to ask for?
On 27th August 2015 I witnessed a memorable event for Practical Action Southern Africa.Zimbabwe`s Minister of Energy and Power Development Dr.Samuel Undenge and Chief Mathe of Gwanda District broke ground for a 99Kw solar energy and livelihoods project.This project will demonstrate how sustainable energy is key for sustainable development – schools, a clinic, irrigation schemes, agro-processing and other small businesses will benefit from the establishment of a solar mini grid managed by a public private partnership.
The SE4RC project is being implemented, in line with the objectives and plans of the governments of Zimbabwe and Malawi, by Practical Action in partnership with SNV, Dabane Trust (in Zimbabwe), Hivos, Environment Africa and CARD (in Malawi). This four year project is funded by the European Union, with additional support from OFID and GEF.
The project is contributing to the attainment of the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) goal that aims to ensure universal access to modern energy services in rural areas and to improve access to modern energy services that contribute to better well-being (economic and social) of rural men and women in Malawi and Zimbabwe. The project promotes productive energy end-use through enterprise development and will benefit at least 30 000 beneficiaries in the two countries.
The Regional Director for Practical Action, Kudzai Marovanidze commended the Mashaba community for the successful inception of the project, their commitment in working to ensure its success and also working towards their own development.
The Guest of Honour, Energy and Development Minister, Dr. Samuel Undenge, gave the keynote address. He acknowledged the collaborative efforts by the different stakeholders involved in the project.The Minister also noted that the SE4RC project is strategically in line with the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset)No Comments » | Add your comment
‘We invited experts on land fill into our school to talk to them about technology justice’
So said one student from Poland when asked what the action was they took following a science project they did in school. The project was inspired by their teacher who had been on a teacher training programme run in Poland by the NGO CEO as part of an EC project Practical Action is leading on called Make the Link. The teacher had used the materials provided as part of the training and given pupils aa starting point of looking at how science can be used to improve lives in the developing as well as the developed world. Students were encouraged to pursue their own interests and work on a project, a novel approach in Poland. They got very keen on biogas, loved our #techjustice marvellous microbes video
Projects varied from designing solar phone chargers to drying herbs and building a wind turbine. Pupils had clearly got really engaged with the project, had taken ownership of it and at the same time learnt a lot about the lives of others. One teachers said ‘ I like that the students really understood the problem. We saw compassion, empathy, and a side of character of pupils we wouldn’t normally see.’ This was echoed by another teachers who said, ‘ I think students really changed their approach, we noticed a difference in their way of thinking…that science is about real people’.
Teachers really felt that the global approach was a huge benefit in helping pupils make connections between their own actions and what happens in the developing world.
‘Raising global awareness makes students realise some complicated interdependences and know that what we do here has impact on other people in developing countries’
When asked what feeling they had during the project the students said things like:
‘We were surprised in the beginning that our lives are so different to people in Africa. By doing this project we not only learnt how to make solar power but found out what life is like in another place’. Hubert (15 year old boy)
‘We were surprised that some people don’t have basic things like toilets. We complain a lot about a lot of things but really we don’t have a lot to complain about. It has made us want to find solutions’ Justyna (14 year old girl)
The students had all come together to share their projects with each other. First at a small gathering organised by our Polish partners CEO to gain information for a publication on good practice, then to attend a much bigger event where over 200 schools in Poland set up stands to share their work with pupils , teachers and people from industry.
The ‘killer’ quote for me that showed the real impact of the great work in Poland was from Patryja, 15. When an evaluator asked him ‘what does technology justice mean to you?, he replied:
‘Technology justice means that in other countries people don’t have the technology we have that they still need. This made us ask…why? It bothered us as in our opinion is not fair. The conclusion was that we respect more what we have, and want to try and help others get what they need.’
If that doesn’t demonstrate the impact of our work on the future generation I don’t know what does!!
To view materials ( but in English) that inspired these students go to www.practicalaction.org/schoolsNo Comments » | Add your comment
It was not an easy job for the communities benefiting from the Himalaya Micro Hydro Scheme, in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province, but their sweat will soon yield results.
The Himalaya project started in 2011 under the Rural Sustainable Energy Development in Zimbabwe (RUSED) project which is being implemented by Practical Action and Oxfam. On 8th April 2015 the project was officially opened by the Minister of Energy and Power Development in Zimbabwe, Dr.Samuel Undenge. This has indeed marked a new era for the community of Himalaya situated 35 km from the city of Mutare in Manicaland province in Zimbabwe.
“I have been waiting for this day since day one, and today it has been made possible. I am so happy with all the progress that has been made so far. Our hard work has finally paid off. This official commissioning is a blessing from the government of Zimbabwe we can now start working on producing results,” said an ecstatic Constance Mawocha, a 54 year old Himalaya resident.
Access to electricity by rural Zimbabwean small-scale agricultural communities is very low as electricity is largely confined to the energy-intensive sub-sectors of commercial and industrial enterprises as well as high-income urban households. The only power utility company, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) has suffered immensely under the current global economic recession and the Zimbabwean economic meltdown since 2000 and is struggling to deliver on its mandate. It has thus not been able to provide a constant electricity supply to urban areas let alone scale up the rural electrification programme, which has managed to supply less than 25% of rural communities with electricity.
For the Himalaya community having access to electricity was a fantasy. The area is located in a mountainous area and is very far from the national grid. Having seen the predicament of most rural communities in Zimbabwe, two international development organisations, Practical Action and Oxfam with funding from European Commission saw the potential for addressing the energy poverty using the abundant water resources and feasible terrains through facilitating the establishment of hydro- electricity mini grids.
This Himalaya micro hydro system generates 80kw and 150kw of electricity at full capacity. The electricity generated at this scheme will be used to power an irrigation scheme, a grinding mill, a saw mill to process timber, and an energy centre which houses a hair salon, lantern charging kiosk and refrigeration just to mention a few.
“As women we have been empowered, I can’t wait to buy my electric machine and start sewing clothes for sale. I enjoy farming and the coming of electricity has made our farming very easy, from the training that we have had I am now taking farming as a business and this will come to reality with the electricity in use. Also I have 6 children and 8 grandchildren that I live with meaning I have to frequently visit the grinding meal so that I put food on the table for these little kids. Before this was so difficult for we had to travel quite long distance to get our maize pounded. But now I walk less than 500m to get my mealie meal and I am so grateful.” Grace Muyambo 45.
The coming of electricity also meant diversified possibilities for value addition in agriculture and agro-processing.
“We used to lose a lot of fruits and vegetables whenever there was a glut due to absence of refrigeration facilities but now the shelf lives will improve for usually perishable goods. Besides that, the social life of families is going to improve since we will be connected to the global village through the Television and internet.” said Eutias Chirara secretary of the Himalaya Micro Hydro Association.
The people of Himalaya may well celebrate, this was not an easy job. Men and women worked so hard to achieve the progress to date. Women assisted by carrying stones, river sand, cement, and digging of irrigation canals. Men were responsible for carrying heavy penstock pipes , laying the electricity grid and all other hard work.
”I almost gave up because the work was so hard, but as a community we had told ourselves that the project belonged to us and we had to contribute in any way we could so that we see the results. Here we are today, we are so happy to have reached this day and celebrate with the whole of Zimbabwe,” said Eutias Chirara secretary of the Himalaya Micro Hydro Scheme.
Once the project is completed communities in Himalaya will be able to use of the energy, to improve their livelihoods and therefore ability to pay and sustain the scheme through various enterprises.No Comments » | Add your comment
In September, I spent a few days in Chikwawa, in Malawi’s lower Shire region. My mission was to collect case studies on the current situation facing farmers before the implementation of the Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC) project.
During this process, I got to hear and witness some of the difficult situations women in the area face. Indeed women can do anything to ensure that there is food on the table to sustain their families.
Thats the story of Edith Willison, a smallholder farmer in Chikwawa. She is a single mother and she is responsible for fending for her family. Life has not been easy for her and her children. She wakes up very early every day and walks up to four kilometres to fetch water for her family’s domestic use before she goes to the fields. She grows maize, cassava and vegetables which she sells to get money to buy food and to pay for her children’s school fees and upkeep.
For the crops to grow well she uses a treadle pump to irrigate the crops. This is no easy job especially on an empty stomach given there are times when there will be nothing to eat in her house. She spends about five to six hours pedalling the treadle pump in order to water her plot.
Edith is now suffering from back pains because of all this hard work. When she gets tired from using the treadle pump, her 11 year old son Musani takes over this task.
This system of pumping water which Edith and other farmers in the area are using is not reliable. As a result, Edith had low harvests and is struggling to provide food for her children. During these hard times, she resorts to borrowing from colleagues who also do not have enough so at the end of the day the family can retire to bed with empty stomachs.
Practical Action will be introducing solar powered irrigation to farming areas in Zimbabwe and Malawi. The areas which the project will be implemented from are so poor and remote. They are not connected from the national electricity grid and unlikely to ever be connected because of their remoteness. Even if they were, the cost of the electricity would be exorbitant. However, using the abundant, free resource of the sun for solar voltaic panels to power pumps, water can be drawn from significantly deeper depths than a treadle pump. Instead of spending up to six to seven hours incessant pumping to irrigate their farms per day, Edith and other women can be using this valuable time to do other things like household chores, start small businesses, and attend to their children. Furthermore children can also attend school. With this technology the farmers can be sure of a viable and consistent supply of water for their crops.2 Comments » | Add your comment
Today is Blog Action Day, where thousands of bloggers from around the world use their voice to advocate change. This year’s topic is inequality and if you’ve read my blog you know that I write passionately about my belief that all people should have access to energy (I even went for a week without energy to raise awareness).
I want to start by asking you how many of these you used yesterday:
…and how many of these you could cope without…for good?
Now imagine a life without energy, which we rely on to power all this technology.
More than a century after Edison introduced the first commercially viable incandescent light bulb, 1.3 billion people are still living in darkness, with no access to electricity, and 3 billion still cook over open fires, exposing themselves to toxic smoke that could kill them (it actually kills 4 million people a year – more than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined).
Access to technology, particularly energy, is an inequality that denies millions of people the opportunity to make a better life for themselves.
Energy transforms lives
Electricity enables lighting, radio and TVs, healthier cooking and a clean, reliable water supply. Small businesses flourish because shops can open for longer and families can work in the evening. There are improvements in education and health (refrigeration for vaccines and sterilised equipment) and in food processing and manufacturing. Access to energy can lift people out of poverty.
Energy access is crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and shifting to renewable energy sources is also crucial for tackling climate change, which threatens the Sustainable Development Goals’ success.
When the UN announced its target ‘Energy for All by 2030′, we thought the opportunity for billions of rural people in isolated areas had arrived.
However, progress has been slow and governments and institutions are failing to invest in clean energy access. Meanwhile, mining companies are trying to convince G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane next month that access to coal-fired power is crucial for “empowering” developing countries.
It’s also disappointing that the proposed Sustainable Development Goal for ‘modern energy for all’ is really vague and doesn’t include a sufficiently ambitious or specific target.
It’s time that we called on world leaders need to make a real commitment to tackle poverty and climate change and give everyone access to renewable energy sources.No Comments » | Add your comment
Around this time last year I had the privilege of spending time in the remote villages of Lorengippi and Lobei in Turkana, northern Kenya.
It was a time for celebration. Practical Action had recently installed a solar powered water pump in Lobei capable of pumping out thousands of litres. The community was clearly flourishing thanks to new school toilets (which had dramatically increased attendance amongst girls), a newly restored market garden where crops were being grown and easy access to clean water for all families.
Meanwhile the village of Lorengippi rang out with song as I witnessed the first gallon or so of water being pumped out of the newly installed solar-powered pump. This community still faced all the problems Lobei had recently overcome, but the overwhelming feeling was one of optimism that a reliable supply of water would bring greater health, wealth and happiness.
Fast forward a year, and the situation isn’t so positive. Since my visit barely a drop of rain has fallen, meaning pastures have failed and the pastoralists who live and work in the region face disaster. In response, (thanks to an agreement Practical Action staff helped broker), most of the men have taken the cattle over the border to Uganda where the pastures will keep their cattle – the only source of income & wealth in the region – alive.
However, although the communities we work in have been left with clean water, sources of food have been harder to come by. The departure of the men-folk has left thousands of women and children with nothing. Our work means that in the communities in which we have installed pumps, people will no longer die from dehydration, but goats and chickens have perished and and left those who are left almost entirely dependent on food aid. Fortunately, a well-co-ordinated response from the regional government has meant that disaster has been avoided.
In years gone by, severe droughts like this year’s were once in a lifetime events. Now they are happening once every decade. The situation in Turkana underlines how we need to confront the causes of climate change and proves that no one solution can ever solve a global phenomena.
No Comments » | Add your comment
Ethnic communities living in remote areas are not only geographically isolated, they are technologically isolated too – that’s what I thought while going to the hilly part of Bangladesh lately. And I was wrong!
I was visiting Bolipara – a remote place in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of southern Bangladesh, a region famous for its hills, rivers and forests. With 13 ethnic groups, cultural diversity is also an attraction.
While talking with the Khumi, the Tripura and the Marma ethnic communities separately, I asked them to tell me three things that they were happy to have. Water points, treatment from local traditional healers, and schools were mentioned by more than one group. These were logical choices given the water, health and literacy related challenges they often face even at the end of the MDG-era. To my surprise, the other two things made them happy were mobile phone and solar home system.
I calculated that there was roughly one mobile phone for 12-16 people in Bolipara. Maintaining a mobile phone in Bolipara is, however, a big challenge. To top-up your credit, you may have to walk up to 9 km to the nearest market. Since there is no electricity supply from the national grid, you also need a solar system in your house or at least in your village to charge your phone. Although mobile phones are cheap (as low as $30), solar home systems are not (minimum price $350). So, solar panels on the thatched roofs of quite a few traditional houses made me happy.
In this age of ICT and renewable energy, I was very pleased to see ethnic people of the CHT were no longer technologically isolated and were improving their lives with advanced technologies. This is what Technology Justice is all about!
(A quick note: Technology Justice can be defined as the right of people to decide, choose and use technologies that assist them in leading the kind of life they value without compromising the ability of others and future generations to do the same.)
But, by living in one of the poorest areas of the country, how are the people of Bolipara paying for solar home systems? In fact, unprecedented blanket cultivation of tobacco in this formerly forested area is allowing them to earn quick, good cash from large companies. Tobacco may be destroying the local environment and traditional agro-systems; it is also supporting good investment in technologies to make traditional life comfortable.
This recent technological transformation of Bolipara represents a complex interaction among culture, poverty, private sector, environment and technology. Development is about making balanced choices. When the gap between the haves and the have nots is vast, it is often hard to advise the poor what they should do and shouldn’t do to make their lives better. Fighting technology injustice is tough, but achieving technology justice is probably tougher.2 Comments » | Add your comment