Youth find solutions for rural income generation using Solar Mini-grids

March 14, 2018

Basil Malaki,

Ketumbeine and Komolo villages are two distant communities in the Northern Zone of Tanzania. They did not have access to energy before Power Corner and Rafiki Power arrived on the scene and installed solar powered mini-grid stations from 2016 -2017. The arrival of these decentralised energy sources has led to a gradual start-up of budding new businesses, such as welding, car washing and cafes selling cooled soft-drinks such as soda.. However, the villages still witness a lot of untapped potential for local utilisation of the newly available energy source and the resulting income generation.

The Energy Change Lab gathered thirty bright young Tanzanians to think of ways to spur emergence of new income-generating activities in Ketumbeine and Komolo.

Including youth as innovators

On a six-day ‘Energy Safari’ from 26 January -1st February 2018 in Arusha, participants held discussions on Productive Uses of Energy (PUE) for value addition in rural communities receiving solar-power for the first time. The programme announcement attracted over two hundred applicants from Arusha region, Tanzania and other African countries. From this number, we selected thirty multidisciplinary participants between 18 and 35 years old.

Participants were divided over five groups, each group working on its own case with an assigned coach. Throughout the week, they were facilitated through the Lab’s problem-solving process, moving from co-initiation and team building to problem analysis, idea networking, prototyping and finally presenting probable solutions around productive uses of energy to an external audience.

Leaving no one behind

In his opening speech, the guest of honour, Mr Ezra Mbogori, Executive Director at MS Training Centre for Development Cooperation (MS-TCDC) Arusha and an active champion of green living, argued that change is possible if we succeed at persuading communities to embrace green living which includes uptake of decentralised solar solutions that derive clean energy from the sun. In light of these remarks, participants were determined to leave no one behind and set out to develop ‘people centred’ solutions, which result from closely working with local communities.

The Energy Safari kicked off with an orientation day, introducing participants to our problem-solving process and to matters concerning Productive Uses of Energy. After establishing the basis, participants entered the exploration phase of the Safari. This entailed stepping out of the room and embarking on a ‘sensing journey’ to various energy stakeholders (such as mini-grid companies) and to rural communities, to identify their daily challenges. This deep sensing into daily lives and practises resulted in a rich body of knowledge for participants to digest. It provided the basis for a new phase: idea generation and prototyping. Participants selected a concrete idea for a solution to their respective problem case and converted that idea to a physical, tangible prototype. On the fifth day of the Safari, groups went back on field trips again, to have end-users and actors in the PUE value chain interact with the prototype and give them feedback on their idea. This feedback allowed them to rethink their solution, before presenting it to an expert panel of experienced energy stakeholders on the final Safari day. And since the Energy Safari is also about having fun, we wrapped up the 2018 edition with celebration!

Problem cases and solutions

The five cases participants worked on throughout the week, all dealt with the numerous opportunities presented by the arrival of mini-grids in Ketumbeine and Komolo village. The first group was tasked to look into the issue of availability and affordability of equipment for productive activities in Komolo. They proposed a strategic partnership approach with financial, technical and mini-grid companies to train and empower indigenous technicians to repair and maintain electrical equipment in the village.

The second group worked on establishing an enabling environment for uptake of energy for productive uses by demonstrating the viability of a business case for egg incubators in Ketumbeine, while others proposed a water-saving system to boost on-going agricultural activities in that same village.

The third group was tasked to brainstorm on creating business opportunities for village youth. They looked into potential for value adding to livestock activities of Maasai.

The last group looked into beekeeping business in Komolo village and how using the mini-grid’s available electricity can accelerate this. They proposed to setup a beekeeping and processing centre where services such as marketing, packaging, equipment and finance can be accessed.

Empowering the next generation

Zubery A. Msemo, a participant of the 2018 Energy Safari who recently graduated from high school, resides in a community that effectively uses biogas energy. However, he now believes that solar energy provides better alternatives and more opportunities to his village, if productively used. Zubery feels motivated to go back to his community to share his learnings from the Energy Safari by engaging them in the practises around solar energy and green living. He thinks that especially youth groups will be willing to take on the challenge of using electricity productively to improve their livelihoods.

Neema Meremo, an activist who appreciated the Energy Safari as a participant, believes it is possible to minimise rural-urban migration of youth if business support structures are put in place to facilitate and attract them to tap into business opportunities, especially when there is electricity supply that can facilitate productive activities.

Reginald Saria, Safari participant and beekeeping entrepreneur in daily life, stated: “The Energy Safari has enabled me to realise that I still need to do more with my community to excel in the process of setting up a beekeeping and honey processing venture. Initially, I thought I would do good on my own but after engaging the community during the Safari, I realise I can do better if I work together with stakeholders; training my community on best practises of beekeeping and processing.”

As Reginald is already beekeeping in Arusha region, he was fortunate to join the team working in Komolo to build a beekeeping business case to foster productive uses of energy. Together with his new team, he plans to apply the learnings and feedback acquired during the Safari to enhance his beekeeping intervention as well as build the business case in Komolo together with the community and the mini-grid operator.

You can watch the Energy Safari video here and get inspired!

About the Energy Change Lab

The Energy Change Lab is a program of Hivos and IIED. The Lab works with pioneers and change-makers to create an energy system that is sustainable and people-centered. We do this by developing leaders, incubating prototypes, building evidence, connecting people and sharing ideas.