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Bridging the sustainable energy gap for smallholders in West Africa

By Lola Akomatsri On 08.05.2019 Influence & ImpactBlog

In West Africa, demand for food and processed food is increasing mainly due to demographic pressure  while smallholder farmers and processors face difficulties to respond to this demand. Producing and processing more could be facilitated thanks to sustainable and affordable energy.

However, access to energy is still limited in West Africa, in particular in rural areas, where 9 out of 15 countries have rural electrification rates below 19% and policies for energy access are focused on the satisfaction of the household (domestic) demand. There is a gap in covering specific energy needs for agricultural value chains. To address this challenge, Practical Action through the project “Renewable Energy for Agricultural Livelihoods in West Africa – REAL” is engaging stakeholders for a nexus thinking to lift barriers that hinder access to adequate affordable and sustainable energy services that can be used for agricultural productive uses.

Most small holders in fact have little or no access to grid electricity. Access to energy services increases production (irrigation, food processing) but most of the available, affordable and adoptable off-grid solutions are fossil fuel powered and expensive over the lifetime of the equipment but actually the only option they can currently afford. That is where the REAL project comes in, to improve the livelihood of smallholder farmers in West Africa by demonstrating new models for integrating sustainable energy in agricultural value chains, which are financially viable and replicable at larger scale.

Practical Action’s value chain approach is to trigger increased and efficient energy access along the value chain (conservation, processing..) that will enable farmers to sell high volume of products at a higher prices.

For the first phase of the project, Practical Action adapted its tried and tested Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) approach and drew on its experience of using off-grid energy for productive uses in the agriculture in Nepal, Peru, and Zimbabwe, to facilitate a preliminary participatory mapping of the Senegalese horticultural value chain. This exercise conducted with an extended panel of national stakeholders (fruit and vegetable farmers, processors and distributors, energy solutions suppliers, research institutions, advisory services, NGOs, civil society, Government and donors) has pinpointed energy needs, market opportunities and bottlenecks along the entire value chain, from production, post-harvest handling and storage, to agro-processing and  commercialization.

Key findings indicated that the Senegalese horticultural value chain has potential to benefit from  integration of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Sustainable energy solutions such as: solar powered pumps for irrigation and machinery (dryers, grinders, mills, washers, sorters, etc.) for processing vegetables, fruits and spices, for cold storage and ice making.  In fact, energy efficient cook stoves for processing agricultural produce can enable smallholders and women processors to generate more value, increase their productivity, reduce post-harvest losses and improve their livelihoods while protecting the environment.

“There is a huge energy divide and low adoption level of sustainable energy solutions in rural areas where most of smallholder farmers and food processors don’t have access to relevant information about the solutions available. A situation exacerbated by difficulty of accessing credit for sustainable energy equipment due to high financial guarantees or repayment terms” explains Mary Allen, Senior Advisor Agriculture & Livelihoods – Practical Action West Africa.

“Practical Action is working to respond to the tremendous gap between the concrete agricultural sector’s needs and the policy level on the one hand and with developers and suppliers of energy solutions on the other hand. So we want to tap into energy solutions that fulfil a range of needs of smallholder farmers in off-grid areas. ” says Mattia Vianello, Regional Director of Practical Action West Africa.

Practical Action through the REAL Project is engaging agriculture and energy stakeholders in particular, but also any other stakeholder in relation with the value chain,  to think about the nexus between their sectors, to form partnerships, to better articulate their needs, and to work together to enable providers to supply cost effective, sustainable energy technologies for powering agriculture productive uses. This provides an opportunity for cooperation and learning among cross-sector stakeholders.

“We hope to see actors along agricultural value chains cooperating with each other and with suppliers of sustainable energy solutions, to have access to energy solutions and information that will lead to a transformative approach to energy use in the agriculture sector” adds Mattia Vianello, Regional Director Practical Action West Africa.”

“We applaud this approach of Practical Action, which is not only innovative but also enhances farmers’ endogenous knowledge and the design of farmer-centric investment projects” says Diery GAYE, General Secretary of the Federation of Market Gardeners of the Niayes Zone – FPMN. The connection created between the differents segment of the value chain to assess challenges facing each actor along the value chain was commended by stakeholders.

For Elhadji TOURE, from OOLU Solar, an energy solutions provider, “the energy-agriculture nexus consultative platform is the opportunity to reach out to smallholders in order to tailor our equipment and solutions to their specific needs along the value chain “.

“This workshop will be the starting point for a partnership between ITA and energy solutions providers. We will develop partnership with energy solutions companies part of the consultation platform. There is also a need for us to strengthen the link between research for development and sustainable energy technologies through testing and and demonstration of the adaptability of these technologies to the needs of value chain actors before upscaling” said Mr Fallou Sarr, Director of external relations of The Institute of Food Technology (ITA).

Financial institutions also see via REAL a concrete opportunity to address the mismatch between existing financial services and value chain needs.

The Ministery of Petroleum and Energy of Senegal has also endorsed Practical Action’s concertation platform and will adopt the nexus approach by extending its existing national platform on energy resources to agricultural sector information, challenges, and key indicators on value chains.

As next steps, Practical Action is working to develop concept notes and to fundraise for actions  to promote sustainable energy use in the horticultural value chain across West Africa and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in West Africa. Practical action will also realise a deep analysis for other agricultural value chains.