- 23rd May 2023
By Dr. Robert Van Buskirk, Solar4Africa.
Robert Van Buskirk is the technical lead of off-grid solar electric cooking work by Kachione LLC that has been funded through the MECS programme’s Challenge Fund. On 22 May 2023, he gave a lunchtime update to the MECS Loughborough team on progress and developments in leveraging women’s empowerment to increase access to clean cooking for rural communities that might otherwise not be able to afford clean cooking technologies, titled ‘Thoughts on Clean Cooking Access for Rural Malawi: … trying to create access by organizing with rural Women’s Groups‘.
The talk began with an introduction to the key role that electricity access will play in reducing poverty in rural Africa, where hundreds of millions of people live in subsistence economies that rely almost exclusively on manual labour for production. Malawi is an extreme example of this where most rural households do not even have access to animal power, and thus rural subsistence farmers (the vast majority of Malawians) hoe, weed and sometime water their fields by hand in order to produce food to eat.
Because the human body has the physical power of only a 100 watt light bulb, a solar home cooking system that provides 500 watts of cooking power, not only provides cooking services, but provides enough electricity to theoretically increase a rural worker’s productivity by five-fold. And when large increases in labour productivity can happen, so can large increases in income and living standards.
When Kachione LLC went to rural women’s groups in Malawi to partner in the set-up of rural solar shops that would demonstrate and sell solar electric cookers, the women made it clear that a key part of “empowerment” for them was creating “business” and increasing income.
Thus 10 rural women-run solar shops established by Kachione LLC in Malawi not only demonstrate and sell off-grid clean cooking systems but also act as a local distribution point for distributing solar pumps to other women’s groups in the area, In addition the shops distribute solar lighting systems, manual pressure cookers and (for some shops) provide solar taxi services.
Women’s groups in rural Malawi use the solar pumps to grow vegetable gardens during the dry season that provide both food and extra income for their family. Normally, they have to carry the water by hand using watering cans, but with the solar pumps are able to increase their garden area (and income) by 2X or more. The offer of a solar pumping system to the women’s groups enables them to afford the purchase of solar panels. AND the same solar panels that are used with the pumps can be used with the DC electric pressure cookers (EPCs) that Kachione LLC distributes. And on a sunny day, the cooker works with the solar panels directly, without need of a battery which generally is expensive.
Last year the project distributed solar pumps to 130 women’s groups and will increase distribution to over 500 additional groups over the next several months. After pump distribution more than 1000 DC EPCs will be distributed to the same groups that purchased solar panels for the pumps. The project is exploring several models for using results-based finance, monitoring and incentives to maximize the positive impacts and cost-effectiveness of this integrated solar pumping and clean cooking access, distribution and empowerment project. Robert looks forward to sharing more results from this work with the Loughborough team in the coming year.
Featured image credit, top: Robert Van Buskirk (Solar4Africa).