Results tagged “Benin” from Bob Freling's Solar Blog

It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.  In some cases, though, it may also begin with a visit to the district capital to obtain a copy of one’s birth certificate.

As mentioned in a previous post, access to modern energy—while omitted from the initial group of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched by the United Nations in 2000—has gained growing recognition as being a prerequisite for achieving the MDGs. Indeed, the United Nations has even gone so far as to designate 2012 as the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All”.

Last month I was invited to participate in “Energy for All: Financing Access for the Poor”, a high-level conference that took place in Oslo, Norway. I was asked to present a case study on our solar-powered drip irrigation model in Benin that has enabled women farmers in the arid, northern part of the country to grow highly nutritious food year-round.

The organizers of the conference also asked if I could bring with me to Oslo a member of the local community in Benin so that he or she could provide a first-hand account of how village life has been tranformed as a result of our project.

I immediately thought of Ms. Ganigui Guera, president of the women’s farming cooperative in Dunkassa—one of two villages in northern Benin where SELF’s Solar Market Gardens have been in operation over the past four years.

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Ms. Guera, whom we affectionately refer to as “Madame La Presidente”, was my first choice for two reasons: 1) as president of the women’s farming cooperative in Dunkassa, she is a natural leader who can speak authoritatively on behalf of the other women in the community, and 2) she is a strong, dignified woman who carries herself proudly. Such dignity was all too palpable when Madame was featured two years ago in Vu du Ciel, a French documentary about our project in Benin.

Unfortunately, this invitation came with precious little time remaining before the conference. Madame would need to apply for a visa to travel to Norway, a process that normally takes two weeks. But getting a visa, as I found out, was the least of our problems. Madame didn’t have a passport, nor did she have a national ID card, or even a birth certificate. So in order to travel to Norway, she would have to obtain a birth certificate, then a national ID card, then a passport, and finally a visa—all within two weeks!

Against all odds, Madame Ganigui was able to obtain her birth certificate, national ID, and passport in one week, and with support from the Norwegian government as well as Danish embassy in Benin, she was issued a visa just one day before her scheduled flight to Oslo (via Brussels).

Madame had less than 24 hours to prepare for her trip to Europe. Fortunately, our solar technician Zacharie had traveled to Cotonou with Madame, so he was able to assist her with the purchase of essential items such as a suitcase and carry on bag, shoes, and of course, a warm jacket since Oslo would be significantly colder than what Madame was accostomed to.

I arrived to Oslo several hours before Madame, so I was able to pick her up at the airport. Needless to say, I was relieved to see her arrive safely, but I was also dismayed to learn that no one from the airlines had greeted her in Brussels, as agreed to, and escorted her to her connecting flight. I can only imagine how disorienting it must have been for someone who had never traveled abroad or flown before in an airplane. But Madame is a resourceful woman who managed to find the gate on her own.

After checking in to our hotel, we had a buffet dinner and retired for the evening. At dinner, and during subsequent meals in Oslo, it was very interesting to observe Madame experience certain foods for the first time.

The next morning Madame and I attended the opening plenary session which led off with introductory remarks by the Prime Minister of Norway. Thanks to the simultaneous interpreting that was available throughout the conference, Madame was able to listen to everyone’s remarks in French, a language she speaks fluently in addition to Bariba, an African dialect that is spoken widely in the north of Benin.

Later that afternoon I arranged for a brief tour of Oslo. While waiting in the lobby with Madame for our French-speaking tour guide, we had a most fortuitous encounter. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon walked through the revolving front door of the hotel, and suddenly there he was, right in front of us. I siezed the opportunity and quickly introduced the Secretary General to Madame, and told him about the solar-powered drip irrigation model that she has championed in Benin. As Madame La Presidente shook hands with Ban Ki-moon, one of the UN staff photographers took pictures.   

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The next morning, I gave a talk on our work in Benin. After my remarks, I invited Madame on stage for her to share her thoughts with the audience. A bit nervous but resolute, Madame walked up to the podium and began to speak. Her voice was quiet and measured. Everyone listened intently as Madame explained who she was and what she has been doing to help her community improve its food security and climb out of poverty.“Solar energy, Madame affirmed, “has transformed our village”. “Thanks to our new-found ability to pump water from rivers and underground aquifers, we are able to grow food year-round. Not only are we feeding our families, we—the women of Dunkassa—are also earning extra income from the sale of fresh produce, income that we can use to pay for school fees and medical treatment.”

When Madame concluded her remarks, the moderator of our panel captured the general mood and reaction of everyone in the room when he said, “If ever we needed a clearer reminder of why we’re here, I think we’ve just heard it.”

 

Indeed, Madame’s personal testimony was the perfect way to conclude this two-day conference in Oslo. Through her presence, energy poverty suddenly took on a life-like quality that could never be conveyed through a rehearsed speech or powerpoint presentation. Madame was the real deal and everyone knew it. And though Madame’s journey to Norway had been a long and arduous one, it was worth it. Her words, gentle but powerful, will continue to reverberate in the hearts and minds of people who care about energy poverty long after she returns to her native Benin.

Madame is now back in her village, helping to prepare for the dry season which begins this month. But unlike before, when virtually nothing could be grown from November to April, Dunkassa’s drip-irrigated fields will soon be sprouting all kinds of leafy green vegetables—for both consumption as well as sale to market.

And now, Madame knows that her voice has been heard on the world stage, and that the example she is setting in Benin will light the way towards a brighter future for thousands of villagers like her elsewhere in Africa—and beyond.

Solar-powered drip irrigation systems significantly enhance household incomes and nutritional intake of villagers in arid sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new Stanford University study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study found that solar-powered pumps installed in remote villages in the West African nation of Benin provide a cost-effective way of delivering much-needed irrigation water, particularly during the long dry season.

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We partnered with Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment to evaluate the impact of our Solar Market Garden in Benin's Kalalé district. 

I blogged about the our involvement in Benin in an earlier post titled - Food Security: Using Solar Power to Transform Rural Agriculture in Benin's Kalalé District - noting how we were first contacted by Dr. Mamoudou Setamou, a native of Kalalé.  Our hopes for Benin were also documented by Yann Arthus-Bertrand in the The End of Oil, a recent episode of his "Earth from Above" series.

While the results of the project are very encouraging, I want to emphasize that they are just one part, an important one, of course, of SELF's Solar Integrated Development Model.

The Solar Integrated Development (SID) Model developed by SELF is based on three principles:

SELF Help

Solar electrification projects are chosen by the people in rural communities as full participants, acting on their own behalf. The villagers determine priorities as well as the project scope.

SELF Reliance

Solar systems are purchased by villagers through micro-credit financing. Each family pays for its own system and participates in the ownership of community systems, spreading development funds further to help more people.

SELF Determination

Villagers, both men and women, are trained to install, maintain and replicate their solar systems. In addition, a store of spare parts is provided as part of the initial project funding. Local partners are assisted in establishing a supply chain for continuing purchase of spare parts.

Each project flows from the needs and leadership of the community. The community is committed to and empowered by full participation in all project phases including design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

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SELF partners with government, corporations and non-governmental organizations to develop and promote additional technologies and systems such as solar-powered micro-irrigation, crop-processing equipment, internet connectivity, telemedicine and commercial applications to help broaden the scope and impact of solar-generated electricity.

A solar electric system provides 20 years worth of energy at a fixed cost. Utilizing the latest technologies, projects are implemented with the most reliable and cost-effective equipment.

Beyond providing the electrical energy source, our Solar Integrated Development Model provides targeted applications, tools and hardware such as LED lights, sewing machine motors, oil expellers, vaccine refrigerators, water pumps, and computers, often through microfinance loans, so that community members have the tools to turn electrical energy into economic empowerment . The goal is not simply that people have electricity; it is that they immediately benefit from having electricity.

SELF's solar installation has made a dramatic impact on the health and quality of life for the people of Bessassi and Dunkassa in northern Benin. But there is much more work to be done. While the immediate next step is to drill wells in each of these two villages - ensuring access to clean, safe drinking water - there are 42 more villages anxiously waiting for solar-powered drip irrigation. SELF conducted site assessments in August 2009 and the wells were drilled in December 2009, with solar-powered pumps scheduled to be installed in March 2010. But we still need to raise money for drip irrigation systems for the additional villages.

Last, but certainly not least, SELF has promised to provide whole-village solar electric systems to each of the rural farming communities in Kalalé. By bringing solar energy to power their schools, homes, health clinics, street lights and microenterprise centers, we can empower Beninese women and their families to lift themselves out of poverty, ensuring a brighter future for all.

Please help us continue empowering the women of Africa, and bring hope to them and their children.

SEE ALSO:

- Saving Sub-Sahara Africa a Drip at a Time Miller-Mccune

- Solar-powered irrigation improves diet and income in rural sub-Sahara DNA


In April 2009, the French environmental magazine Terra Eco published a story on the Solar Electric Light Fund, SELF and the Empire of the Electifying Sun.” That story grabbed the attention of of Vu du Ciel, a National Geographic - like program hosted by world-renowned photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand

You may have seen or own a copy of Arthus-Bertrand’s stunningly beautiful coffee table book Earth from Above.  Or perhaps you have watched HOME, the documentary about planet Earth (as seen from above) that was filmed and produced by Arthus-Bertrand and made freely available to the world via the Internet.

On November 26, 2009, French television broadcast a 90-minute episode of Vu du Ciel entitled “The End of Oil” which featured SELF’s work in Benin, West Africa. 

Here’s the English-language version of SELF’s segment in the program:

Vu du Ciel from Solar Electric Light Fund on Vimeo.

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2008 was an extraordinary year of accomplishment and transition for SELF. The projects you’ll find described in our annual report have taken our work to new levels:

  • In Benin, West Africa, our Solar Market Gardens – solar-powered drip irrigation systems – have vastly improved villagers’ nutrition and income;
  • Building on our collaboration with the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative, SELF has begun solar-electrifying clinics across Rwanda and Lesotho through our Solar Health Care Partnership with Partners In Health, the organization co-founded by Dr. Paul Farmer; and
  • In the Eastern Cape, South Africa, our Solar Rural Schools Project – installing and powering computer labs, Internet access and learning software – is bringing the world to one of its remotest corners
We’re glad to report that our support came from both individuals and institutions; thank you for your help:
selfcontributions.gifOur focus is on our projects. Download our annual report and learn more about SELF. Find out how we:

  • Installed more than 32 kilowatts (kW) of solar electric systems in 5 health clinics and 3 schools;
  • Impacted more than 55,000 people in Rwanda, Lesotho, Benin and South Africa;
  • Bridged the digital divide for over 3,000 students and their families in the remote Eastern Cape province of South Africa;
  • Continued monitoring and evaluating the success of our multi-phase solar drip irrigation project in Benin; added training and introduction of new seed varieties;
  • Began design and installation of solar electric systems for 5 additional health centers in Rwanda to be completed in January 2009;
  • Completed assessments and site planning for the electrification of 10 health clinics in Haiti, 6 clinics in Rwanda and 1 clinic in Burundi; and
  • Began preparations for the “whole village” electrification of two villages in Benin; this phase will supply power for drinking water wells, home and street lighting, schools, health clinics, and microenterprise centers.

selfefficiency.gifOn the verge of our 20th anniversary, we are now poised to harness the rising tide of awareness and fight two of the greatest challenges of the century: climate change and energy poverty.

Will you join us once again?


I've just returned from Benin, West Africa where I had a chance to see firsthand the remarkable transformation that has taken place in the villages of Dunkassa and Bessassi since the launching, less than two years ago, of SELF’s solar irrigation project in Kalalé District -- a poor, dry region in the northern part of the country.

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Kalalé District consists of 44 villages (~100,000 people), none of which are connected to Benin’s electric power grid.

There is precious little rainfall during the six-month dry season that runs from November through April each year.  During this period, the land of Kalalé is parched and its people are hungry. Malnutrition is widespread, as evidenced by the many children walking around with distended bellies - a telltale sign of kwashiorkor, a condition caused largely by a lack of protein and micronutrients.

Our involvement in Benin began some three and a half years ago when I was first contacted by Dr. Mamoudou Setamou, a native of Kalalé who had received a Ph.D. in agricultural entomology from the University of Hanover in Germany.  Mamoudou, now a Professor at Texas A&M University, had just returned from a home visit to Benin, where he had participated in a meeting of Kalale’s district council to explore alternative options for electrifying Kalalé’s villages since the national grid was not likely to reach this remote part of Benin anytime in the foreseeable future.

Intuiting that solar represented a way forward for his people, Mamoudou turned to SELF for help.  After a series of discussions, it became clear that Kalalé District, with its 44 unelectrified villages, offered a great opportunity for SELF to scale its work beyond the scope of a single village to encompass an entire region.  After all, with much of Africa still without access to modern energy services, it was time to think and act boldly.

Over the next few months, we put together a plan to generate solar electricity for a wide range of end-uses—including schools, health clinics, water pumping systems, street lighting, and wireless Internet access—in each of the 44 villages that comprise Kalalé District.

In terms of priority, however, an on-the-ground needs assessment revealed that the first concern among the local communities was food security: to find a way to overcome the endemic lack of water and agricultural produce that condemns the people of Kalalé to an endless cycle of poverty and poor health, especially during the 6-month dry season.

To address this problem, we approached Professor Dov Pasternak, a leading drip irrigation expert who, for the past eight years, has been working for the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).  While at ICRISAT, Pasternak developed what he refers to as the “Africa Market Garden” – a simple but highly effective method of using drip irrigation to grow high-value fruits and vegetables on small plots of arid land in the Sahel region of Africa.

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Prior to working with SELF, Pasternak had relied upon diesel generators to power the water pumps used in his drip irrigation systems.  Needless to say, we felt that solar represented a more viable alternative, economically and environmentally.  Dov agreed to try it our way, and now with the successful launch of the first solar-powered drip irrigation systems in Benin, he has become a solar convert.  (In a white paper SELF recently put together, it is shown that the payback period for solar pumping – as compared with diesel – can be less than two years, and that's at today's diesel prices which are going up, and solar prices which are going down.)

My recent trip to Kalalé was the first time I had visited the project since its launching in November 2007.  I was accompanied by a French film crew that is going to feature SELF in an upcoming segment of "Earth from Above", a National Geographic–like program hosted by well-known French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

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It was great to return to Benin and spend time with the people of Dunkassa and Bessassi, the two pilot villages where solar drip irrigation systems have been installed.  I immediately noticed a difference in the women, who have filled out since our last encounter.  Not only are the women better fed, but so are their families and the rest of the villagers who now have year-round access to a steady supply of highly nutritious fruits and vegetables.

What’s more, the women are earning an extra $7.50 per week from the sale of fresh produce at the local market.  I was there on market day, and was delighted to see the women march off proudly into town with their baskets filled to the brim with leafy green vegetables. 

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So not only has nutrition improved in Dunkassa and Bessassi, but income levels also have risen — income which will help pay for school fees, medical treatment, and overall economic development.  Indeed, the women are already starting to think about other types of income-generating schemes that can be launched in the villages.  It appears their entrepreneurial spirit has been kindled!

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Phase II of this project in Benin, scheduled for launch next year, will involve the “whole-village” electrification of Dunkassa and Bessassi, whereby solar electric systems will generate power for the school, health clinic, homes, street lighting, community center, and a WiFi network in each of the pilot villages.  We’re also planning to install additional solar pumps that will provide fresh drinking water to the residents of Dunkassa and Bessassi.

While much remains to be done, we’ve gotten off to a promising start in Benin.  The tandem use of solar energy and drip irrigation can be replicated in many other parts of sub-Saharan Africa that are poor in water resources but rich in sunlight. 

What’s particularly exciting is the fact that in this one project we now have a sustainable model that is simultaneously combating climate change, improving food security, supplying clean water, alleviating poverty, and empowering women.

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Stay tuned for further updates...

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