Rural women lighting the way for solar energy products

Efforts by the government to improve electricity connectivity across the country is paying dividends with at least 70% of Kenyans being hooked to the national grid.

The ambitious connection programs being undertaken by the Ministry of Energy has seen livelihoods in remote villages change for the better as the lighting has offered more business hours.

However, some women in the rural western part of the country have opted for alternative sources of energy to light up their homes and businesses.

Catherine Wakhu from Matungu area in Kakamega has for the last one and a half years been using solar lighting in her household and proudly says there is nothing that makes her happy than when night falls as she gets her lighting by the click of a button.

A mother of four, commonly known as Rukia mama taa told KNA that she was introduced to Newlight Africa Company that sells solar products in Western Kenya by a neighbor who was marketing the products.

She later underwent an induction course as an agent turning her an instant celebrity in the Kakamega county based hamlet.

In the past my children could not study well as the kerosene lantern could go dry before completing their homework forcing them to go to bed early. But since I installed the solar unit they sleep as late as 11. P.M, she says, adding that besides reduction in pollution her children have registered improved marks.

Rukia explains that she used to buy kerosene at a cost of Ksh. 20 shillings every day but with the solar lighting she now saves, adding the family is also saved from irritating fumes of the kerosene lamps.

Her peers at Mayoni Vumula women chama group followed suit and applied for the solar units under the flexible payment plan for both their domestic and business enterprises at the local market.

She acknowledged that since she started selling the solar lighting gadgets to her chama and community around she has sold at least 30 boxes of 10 lights each of the Solar lanterns dubbed ‘ digital light and made good money.

I deposit Ksh 2,200 to pay for the lamp and Newlight company gives me 10 boxes which I sell each for Ksh. 3, 000 with instalments Ksh. 300 per week over a period of 10 weeks that covers the required cost and I make 800 shillings profit. Out of the profit I minus 200 shillings to go back to our Chama and make Ksh 600 profit, she says.

Through the business Rukia is able to run her family besides paying fees for her secondary school going children.

My most rewarding part is when I see women in my rural area improve themselves through commerce and have their houses lit, she boasted.

Jacob Werner, Head of Sales at New Light Africa trading as HEYA in the area says they their model is geared towards financing opportunities for the rural poor who find difficulty accessing products due to unaffordability.

Our pay plan is flexible for the rural folks who do not have huge incomes and we use the customer for life concept and target them through their chamas so that they are able to afford our products which range from lighting, cook stoves and water tanks, Werner says.

According to Werner, their programme aims at removing barriers in replacing toxic dangerous kerosene lamps with solar LEDs in Africa. The company has already sold over 10, 000 solar lights since it was launched.

57 year old Hakima Mohammed has embraced solar energy to improve her life and that of her children. A mother of three sells tree seedlings in Mwiyekhe area two and a half kilometers from Maseno. She bought a solar water pump that has seen her increase sales of her tree seedlings.

I acquired a solar powered water pump from Future Pump, a company that develops a low cost solar powered irrigation pump that has made it easier for me water my seedlings without a lot of problems, she revealed adding that initially they ferried water from a far flung river.

Mohammed says she is now easily able to pump water that goes into an overhead tank she acquired and through pipes able to water her trees with the help of three farm hands.

Before I came here I had a small nursery that used to have 20,000 seedlings only, but later after joining community forest association they gave me a small area , and I started off with 70,000 seedlings and later continued to expand and now I have 240,000., she says.

On a good month, Mohammed says around March to August which is a good season she is able to make a clean Ksh. 1 million profit in profits.

Trees can only do well with good water and investing Ksh.67,000 to buy solar pump that can water my seedlings at any time was one of the wisest move ‘, Mohammed said

Future Pump has been working with some 100 farmers in Nyanza and using them to research on how to improve the water pump known as Sun Flower 1 and designed to pump and draw water out of a well or river with no fuel or electricity costs.

The research was part of the work supported by Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), a Ksh.30.4 billion private sector fund that provides funding to enterprises in 24 countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

Through an initiative known as Renewable Energy, Adaptation and Climate Change Technology (REACT), small and medium size companies are asked to write proposals of their innovative business plans, which are then subjected to vetting.

Successful companies like Future Pump and New Light Africa are, therefore, given loans to implement the projects as long as they can raise at least 50 per cent of the amount they are asking for.

Victor Ndiege, the Portfolio Manager � REACT, says solar technology is a more sustainable replacement for diesel and petrol powered generators, which are the most commonly used by smallholders in Kenya and many other African countries.

Ndiege notes that the solar energy has helped in saving money used to purchase other forms of energy such as kerosene for lighting. The program supports private sector companies to reach the market with various products and clean cooking solutions for poor rural families.

He says that out 257 businesses they have been working with about 150 have succeeded and reached a stage where they attract revenues to sustain themselves.

He confirmed that in order for the off grind mechanism to work in the country, Government should zero rate energy solar equipment to attract more investment in solar energy.

Source: Kenya News Agency