Mashaba solar plant in Gwanda

In most parts of Africa, irrigation agriculture is performed with the use of fossil fuels or labour intensive technologies. In Zimbabwe, in Gwanda district, Matabeleland South province, farmers are using diesel powered combustion engines to drive pumps, whilst in Malawi, in Nsanje and Chikwawa districts, the Southern Region of Malawi farmers are using treadle pumps to irrigate their farms. The use of diesel is very expensive and also pollutes the environment and the air, whilst treadle pumps are laborious and need a lot of energy to operate, the total irrigated area is small due to the capacity of treadle pump.The technologies currently in use in Malawi and Zimbabwe present challenges for the communities.

Practical Action Southern Africa in Partnership with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, Dabane Trust in Zimbabwe Hivos, Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD) and Environment Africa in Malawi, will modernise agriculture irrigation through a four year Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC) project. The SE4RC project is an exciting initiative that has the potential to greatly improve the socio-economic status of the rural communities in the said two countries. This will go a long way in redressing the inequalities of rural energy access.

The SE4RC Project is being funded by the European Union with co-funding from GEF Small Grants Programme and The Opec Fund for International Development (OFID). With modern technology and new techniques, the SE4RC project is establishing solar powered decentralised mini grids in isolated rural communities in Zimbabwe and Malawi.200kw of electricity will be generated to support productive end use, powering schools and clinics and enabling at least 300,000 people to access energy services.

The overall objective of this project is to contribute to the attainment of the sustainable energy for all (SE4All) goal that aims to ensure universal access to modern energy services in rural areas.

Besides ensuring food security for the smallholder irrigation in the two countries, the solar energy will also benefit other sectors of the communities resulting in improved health, education facilities and entrepreneurship development. Focus will also be on productive end use of energy to improve the incomes of the target communities.

The project has established a solar powered decentralised mini grid in Gwanda, in Zimbabwe generating 99Kw.

The communities contributed labour whilst the contractors focused on the technical aspects but also building the capacities of selected community members to ensure sustainability. Trained community members will be able to manage the power station and undertake regular maintenance of the systems. At least 19 small local entrepreneurs will have have the opportunity to invest in energy service centres (small energy kiosks for example battery charging,small shops,study centers-internet cafes).

In Malawi, another solar mini grid will be established in Nsanje at Nyamvuwu and Chimombo and in Chikwawa at Mwalija and Nazoro expected to generate generate120Kw. A total of 20,000 people in Malawi and 10,000 people in Zimbabwe are expected to benefit from accessing renewable energy services. As a sustainability measure, the project will build capacities of the communities on areas such as operations and maintenance of the solar pumping system. The same communities are also to be trained on Participatory Market Systems Analysis and Transformational Leadership. The trainings will ensure the schemes are run as businesses for financial viability by people with leadership skills as well as technical capacity which consequently contribute to the sustainability of the project.

The project will demonstrate a case for public-private partnerships in delivering energy access, whilst contributing to an enabling environment for the establishment of off grid systems in Zimbabwe and Malawi through a series of government engagements.

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