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Monica_55905 Mar 20

Energy Shortage and Women in Agricultural Africa

Energy Shortage and Women in Agricultural Africa image
The impact of energy shortage in Africa is the hardest on African women in agricultural areas. C.D. Glin, from the U.S. African Development Foundation, spoke to us about their several funding programs focused on lessening electricity poverty for women communities in rural zones. 
USADF began its energy portfolio in 2014 to bring affordable and sustainable energy to communities across Africa. Since that time, USADF has funded over 112 African-owned off-grid energy enterprises across 15 countries. USADF’s off-grid energy portfolio is a key element of the Beyond the Grid program of Power Africa, a U.S. Government-led initiative that seeks to create 60 million new energy connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030. In partnership with Power Africa, USADF has launched several funding programs including the Women in Energy Off-Grid Energy Challenge and the Smart Communities Coalition Off-Grid Energy Challenge, focused on refugee settlements.

Q: It was recently discussed how the shortages of energy supply and access affect African women in rural areas the most. In which ways does this happen, and what are the first urgent measures needed to prevent this from happening?  
 
A: In many cases, female farmers have the most to gain from off-grid energy solutions. On the flip side, that often means they have the most to lose when these types of solutions are not available. Access or lack of access to off-grid energy has a dramatic impact on women’s livelihoods. For example, in many countries women are traditionally involved in value chains like groundnuts and shea, whose profitability significantly increases if they can be processed using mechanized power. In many semi-arid countries, many women engage in market gardening to augment the diets and incomes of their households; solar-powered irrigation significantly increases the yields and types of produce they can grow. Women are also often responsible for selling other highly-perishable commodities like milk and fish. Access to solar-powered refrigeration allows them much greater control over the prices they can charge. 
 
Q: What other initiatives are you involved with ensuring that Women in Agricultural Africa thrive? 
 
A: Supporting female smallholder farmers has always been at the core of what USADF does. In the past year, 85 percent of our portfolio was invested in agriculture, and 60% of our agricultural grant beneficiaries were women. In the shea value chain alone, our investments has benefited over 23,550 women and helped them increase their incomes. We also support several major government-wide gender initiatives. As part of the Women's Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (WGDP), intended to reach 50 million women by 2025, USADF partnered with the State Department on its Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE). USADF has committed to providing up to $10 million in catalytic investment to female entrepreneurs through grants, and technical and business advisory support, in ten countries across Africa starting in 2020. 
 
Q: What are the regions that have both the biggest woman-power potential, or the one where women are in the highest need of support?  
 
A: To date, USADF has funded 17 African women-owned energy enterprises across the continent at an average of $100,000 each, or over $1.7 million total. We’ve funded these enterprises in nine countries across east, west and southern Africa, so we’ve really found that every region has a lot of woman-power potential. [List of countries: Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania] This year we’re particularly focused on finding and investing in women-led energy enterprises in the Sahel and Horn regions. 
 
As an example, one of the companies we funded, Sosai Renewables is a woman-owned energy enterprises based in northern Nigeria.  
 
Sosai started out with $100,000 in grant funding from USADF to purchase capital assets, including solar-powered drying equipment. Sosai quickly found that the demand far outstripped the equipment available. Sosai has since graduated to a blended finance investment from USADF and our partner All On, a combination of grant and debt funding, allowing them to expand into a new region. I’m excited to be moderating a panel with Sosai’s inspiring founder, Habiba Ali, during the Powering Africa Summit next week. 
 
Q: What area of the energy sector do you think is often overlooked, when it comes to re-vamping African energy in order to aid the progress of the region? 
 
A: We see a continued need for grants and other types of smart subsidies in frontier and fragile markets, including countries in the Sahel and Horn regions, regions which tie in to the recently passed Global Fragility Act. This is why we recently launched a Sahel/Horn Off-Grid Energy Challenge looking for innovative off-grid solutions to “power up” underserved communities in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, and South Sudan. We see a need for more returnable capital and blended finance investments in more mature markets like Nigeria and Kenya. 
  
Q: In terms of technology, where’s the focus for these communities? 
 
A: As described above, off-grid energy of all types benefits women in particular and communities in general. Given that farmers are the backbone of the economies of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, off-grid technologies that provide agricultural productive use, like the milling, irrigation and refrigeration technologies mentioned above, are especially helpful. However, energy for household consumption is just as important. 
 
Q: What are some of the most interesting new projects involved in supporting women leading in Africa taking place this year?  
 
Through our Women in Energy Challenge, we funded women-owned and managed enterprise Kalomo Grain Marketing Limited, a soy farming enterprise in central Zambia. Using $100,000 in grant capital from USADF, which they were able to leverage with $75,000 in equity, KGML was able to procure and install a 25-kilowatt solar-powered oil processing plant, the first of its kind in Zambia. USADF also provided capacity building from a local technical partner, as well as convening power to raise KGML’s profile in Zambia. With USADF’s investment, KGML has sold over $13,000 worth of processed cooking oil and cake. KGML has also trained four women as operators of the plant. KGML purchases directly from a women-owned cooperative of 500-600 smallholder farmers, who can earn additional income from the soy that they grow.  
 
Electricity access rates in rural Nigeria are as low as 41% according to the World Bank. Lack of electricity access negatively impacts farmers’ ability to process and add value to their groups. With USADF’s support, Kiru Fadama Cooperative, a sorghum farmer cooperative in northern Nigeria, installed a solar-powered sorghum grinding station, which allows them to add value to their sorghum, a staple crop. In the last quarter of 2019, they made sales of over $28,000 showing a direct increase in revenue. The availability of off-grid energy has created additional electricity to power their new businesses such as sale of cold beverages, a computer business center, and rice polishing.    
 
In Nigeria, it is estimated that 45 percent of food spoils due to lack of cold storage, causing 93 million small farmers to lose 25 percent of their annual income. To address this challenge, Eastwind Laboratories Limited, a Nigerian energy company set out to introduce solar and off-grid energy solutions to farmers. Through USADF support, Eastwind commissioned their first 20kW modular solar-powered refrigeration-as-a-service system for rural Nigerian farmers in Lagere, Osun State. With this solution, farmers have more control over the shelf life as well as the prices that they can charge for their produce, for example poultry. In addition, they have begun production of ice packs, which serves as an added source of revenue for the operators.