Integrating renewable energy and village savings

MANY women in rural areas still use kerosene lamps for lighting their homes and firewood collected from nearby forest or cut down trees. Mwanakombo Omar from Unguja South District is among the Women who still rely heavily on kerosene and firewood. 

Ms Omar says her home and almost all households in the village still prefer and rely on dried wood as source of energy for cooking and the locally made kerosene lamp to light the House as children also use for studying at night. 

“We are happy with life. Smoke from kerosene lamps and firewood are temporary issues, mainly at the time of lighting,” Mwanakombo says sometimes there is heavy smoke, which causes coughing. 

The village woman is also a member of one of ‘Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLAs)’, “I have been a member for two years. I got a loan to care for my four children. Being divorced, I have to struggle to keep my children healthy and happy.” 

She said although health and education are free in Zanzibar, she needs money for food, clothing for her children and even additional support in health when there is shortage in medicine supply, and buying school needs like uniforms and textbooks. 

Ms Salma Chum Sinai from Kitogani village, Unguja South District said; “We appreciate REZA for the knowledge about how we can expand chances using money we save. We can do more things and earn more money than we are getting now! It is also an opportunity to stop using kerosene lamps and wood, smoke is harming us.”

World Health Organization (WHO), says that around three billion people still cook using solid fuels (such as wood, organic waste, charcoal, coal and dung) and kerosene in open fires and inefficient stoves. 

These cooking practices are inefficient, and use fuels and technologies that produce high levels of household air pollution. WHO says that 3.8 million people a year die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution caused by the inefficient use of solid fuels and kerosene for cooking. Among these 3.8 million deaths: 

About 27 percent are due to pneumonia; 18 percent from stroke; 27 percent from ischaemic heart disease; 20 percent from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and eight percent from lung cancer. 

Other researches have also indicated that roughly 1.5 billion people live without access to electricity and 2.5 billion rely on biomass for their primary cooking fuel, often using highly inefficient and polluting cook-stoves. It is also known that many women engaged in ‘Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), have little development. 

It is because of these facts that staffs from the ‘Renewable Energy Zanzibar Association (REZA), with support from the Urbis Foundation. A charitable organisation from Germany are running a project which aim at changing the lives of people including the women in ‘Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), popular as vikundi vya kukopa. 

Other direct or indirect development partners with the ‘Renewable Energy Zanzibar Association’ are the Tanzania Association of NGOs (TANGO), World Bank, United Nations, UNDP, CIVICUS, European Union (EU), and Save the Children International 

Financial services are vital to help rural families out of poverty, but the impact of vikundi or VSLAs, an ingenious system which provides the mechanism and motivation to save the lives of its members, is still not visible. 

Under the project, REZA is encouraging women in VSLAs to think outside their normal activities so that they can change their way of living by investing gradually in renewable energy to protect their health and save money they have been spending on kerosene and firewood. 

Mr Ramadhan Said Omar Khatib-Executive Secretary of REZA said that with support from development partner, they have chosen 60 people in VSLAs including seven men, working in two administrative areas of Unguja central district and Unguja South districts. 

“We are training them to be innovative and find new areas of business. We encourage them to use ‘Mini Economical Solar Plant’ to save money buying kerosene for the traditional lamps, which is dangerous to their health,” said Khatib. 

He said Renewable energy targets savings and loan associations to do business as well as investing in renewable energy. “12 groups: Six from central district and six from south district comprising 60 people including only seven men have been lucky to get the training.” 

From each group, he said, the target was to get chairperson, deputy chairperson, secretary and treasurer from each group of VSLAs and were taught about leadership, how to start a business, entrepreneurship, along with taking part in exhibitions. 

“The eight days training (four days in each district), came after a research in March, April and May to identify challenges that hinder the development of women in saving and loans groups,” said Mr Khatib adding that the training focused at ToT (Training-of-Trainers).

He also said that the women and the few men were given lesson about how they can get into sustainable renewable energy by making charcoal briquettes out of waste paper and other materials as a solution to stop cutting down tree for charcoal. 

“Making Charcoal briquettes out of waste papers is making money and protecting environment,” Khatib said mentioning the project title as ‘Enabling household access solar lighting system through KUWEKA NA KUKOPA microfinance system.’ 

The executive Secretary said that the core objective is increase incomes and productivity by introducing renewable energy solutions for home and farm-based small business and establishing a village savings and loans scheme as well as improve living conditions by enabling an entire community to access a cleaner, affordable, and sustainable source of energy. 

The district executive director for Unguja South administrative council, Mr Kassim Mtoro who officiated one of the trainings for the members of the VSLAs said it was an opportunity for women to change by looking into other areas of investment using their savings. 

Beneficiaries were from villages of Uroa, Kikungwi, Unguja-Ukuu and Mpapa in the central district; and Kitogani, Muyuni ‘A’, Paje, and Muyuni ‘B’ in south Unguja district. All participants expressed interest as eight groups quickly agreed to install small solar plant with four lamps to all group members who use kerosene lamp. 

REZA’s efforts also goes in line with global struggle to meet its 17-Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): the affordable and clean energy (goal No. 7); sustainable cities and communities (goal No. 11); quality education (goal No. 4); Climate Action (goal No. 13); decent work and economic growth (goal No. 8), and No Poverty (goal No. 1). 

It is fortunate that members of the groups agreed to invest small businesses, also through exchanging between groups, as a new start of life without the traditional wood charcoal and kerosene in home. 

Urbis Foundation funding the project said the innovative approach of the project, to enhance people’s capabilities and independence and grant them easier access to solar energy products, is very recommendable. 

It said in a statement that solar energy is a vital element to foster sustainable development across the globe. We are convinced that it is an especially important technology for countries of the global south, who are rich in solar irradiation and whose people would profit from a secure and clean access to energy sources. 

URBIS FOUNDATION promotes renewable energy projects in Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe. 

Zanzibar government has also been doing it best to remove people from using charcoal as source of energy for domestic lighting, by encouraging use of solar and continued project of rural electrification and promoting use of gas. 

The Minister for Energy, Land, Water, and Housing, Ms Salama Aboud Talib has said that rural electrification which includes small inhabited islands is also done, as they encourage people to get connected to the power from the National Grid. 

But according to the Minister studies are underway to find the best way to go in producing enough power from solar and wind. Thanks to the development partners supporting the much-awaited outcome of the study project. 

Relies on power from Tanzania mainland National Grid connected through Tanga from Pemba Island and Dar es Salaam to Unguja Island. Zanzibar is paying for the electricity and it is one of the main customers for TANESCO. 

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