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Friday, March 1, 2024

Welcoming Smart Villages Initiative to Africa

“Aid cannot achieve the end of poverty – ‘only homegrown development based on the dynamism of individuals and firms in free markets can do that.” – A former World Bank economist.


SolarElectricity is development. It is something without which development is a mirage.  Very many African villages lack electricity because all African countries cannot provide this essential commodity for use by rural dwellers.

Over the years, such countries especially those without hydro dams, have concentrated electrification in urban areas. Only a very few have used the option of other energy sources to electrify the rural villages thereby expanding development.

Aimed at lifting the people out of rural poverty from the bottom up by accessing modern energy services as a catalyst for rural development, the SmartVillages Initiative led by Prof. Brian Heap, has launched an awareness campaign on rural energy for policymakers in Eastern Africa.

The aim of SmartVillages is to bring new insights to policy makers and funding bodies at national, regional and global levels regarding rural energy access for development.

At a wider level, SmartVillages is working to promote dialogue between people in rural villages, scientists, policymakers and entrepreneurs in the countries of Africa, South and Southeast Asia and Latin America. This is to serve as rural development solutions that is catalysed by sustainable energy access.

Statistics have it that there is major energy supply shortage to the extent that over 1.3 billion people globally are without access to electricity and 2.6 billion people cook on open, smoky fires.

More than 95% of these people are either in sub-Saharan African or developing Asia and 84% are in rural areas.

Prof. Brian Heap, Senior Scientific Advisor of SmartVillages Initiative, observes that although international donors and governments were funding several projects to extend grid coverage in impoverished areas, the efforts were beset by two fundamental problems.

“They tend to take a top down approach extending outwards from existing urban or industrial hubs. But many rural communities are far from such hubs, so connection will not be feasible in the foreseeable future.

“Secondly, efforts are insufficiently ambitious, generally aiming to provide minimal levels of energy access rather than the full range of energy services needed to support development goals,” he stated.

For African countries to access technological advances in improved healthcare and basic utility provision; accessible education; increased business and entrepreneurship, accessing integrative electricity, there must be rural energy access.

It is towards ensuring integrative energy provision for African rural communities that SmartVillages Initiative organised an “Off-grid Village Energy Workshop in Arusha, Tanzania in June, 2014.

The workshop explored the East African/Tanzanian environment for village energy, local case studies, challenges and opportunities, with a view to formulating policy recommendations for policymakers, funders, NGOs and other stakeholders in the region.

Bernie Jones, a Project Leader with SmartVillages Initiative, said that the programme aims “to gather evidence from existing projects that have provided or facilitated sustainable off-grid energy solutions in the developing world.”

This is a laudable initiative, especially for most African governments which communities have remained without electricity.

With the workshops having taken place in Arusha, India, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, “the follow-up nine-month programme of engagement and dissemination activities will further strengthen governments’ understanding of the need for SmartVillages.”

This would be strengthened by a study of sustainable energy for villages ‘off-grid’ in Africa, Asia and Latin America, which the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre at Cambridge (MCSC); Cambridge Malaysian Education and Development Trust (CMEDT) and the European Academies Science Advisory Council are undertaking, presently.

This development therefore calls for cooperation of all African nations in order to ensure that our rural villages, which would not easily be connected to grids, are connected off-grid.

“The concept of the smart village,” Prof. Heap says, “is that energy access acts as a catalyst for development – education, health, food security, productive enterprise, environment and participatory democracy.”

For every rural village in Africa and indeed, every rural village in the globe, electricity is a veritable transformative means of livelihoods and local trade.

If this Initiative is supported by African governments and rural communities, especially in a manner of Public Private Peasant Partnership (PPPP), as against Public Private Partnership (PPP) only, rural communities would actively be engaged in participatory democracy that would effect short-term changes.

Wealthy individuals, philanthropy, charitable organisations, corporate organisations in Africa and across the globe, who have various “initiatives to lift the poor out of poverty gap,” should invest in rural energy access.

Heap however observes that there is social complexity of making even simple interventions work, let alone creating a Smart Village. “Clearly, solutions are rarely simple or obvious otherwise they would have been widely adopted.”

Reliable energy source in our African villages can add value to agricultural products by allowing for mechanization, processing and storage.

Such energy source could positively impact the lives of African women farmers who produce and process 80 percent of food.

Nigeria’s First Renewable Energy Model Village was inaugurated on 25th November 2012 in Danjawa, Wammako local government area of Sokoto State by the Sokoto Energy Research Centre of Usmanu Danfodiyo University.

The system of the model village was designed to provide the energy needs of over 1,000 inhabitants. It has a 10 KW PV plant with necessary battery storage system; a 500-litre header riser type solar water; 3KW wind turbine; 100 kilo gramme solar dryers.

Aimed at providing off grid electrification, the 15 KW solar photovoltaic off grid electrification project was implemented for scientific applications such as water heating, solar water pumping and cooking purposes.

Former Director General of the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN), Prof. Abubakar Sambo, observes that the absence of sustainable energy supplies in rural communities is responsible for the marginalisation of rural dwellers.

“80 percent of the rural dwellers lack access to sufficient energy, which has made life difficult for them. Most of people in the rural area depend on wood for energy which is not environmentally friendly and causes global warming,” he said.

Concurring Heap’s position, Prof. Bashir Danshehu, Director of Sokoto Energy Research Centre, stresses that “access to energy is critical to poverty alleviation, hence the need for the development of renewable energy sources. No fewer than 70% of Sub-Saharan African population lack electricity and over 80% of this population lives in rural areas.”

Former Vice Chancellor of Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Prof. Riskuwa Arabu Shehu, notes that “until serious attention was given to the optimal development, utilization and security of our energy needs Nigeria would not have a productive economy.”

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

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