Some learnings from the last weeks

Today we spend the day in the country side just around Tana. Andry from a NGO called FTA (http://123fta.com) took us to see on the one hand his small model organic farm and on the other hand to two farming villages that are rather advanced in marketing their products.

Finally: People who spend about 10 Euro on energy per month

Andry’s farm is not only a testing ground for organic farming in Madagascar, it also has a small IT-Training Center for the farmers from the nearby village. They only started recently, therefore the suceess is not yet too evident.

In the village nearby, we talked to the famers in detail about their energy habits. The village has no grid connection, even the electricity line runs right through the village! It would cost 40,000 Euro to get the village electrified – a sum that nobody could ever afford here. Therefore they are using batteries and candles plus the charing service in the next village. We saw some impressive installation people did themselves to watch TV and listen to the radio with the help of car batteries. They also use a light, we have heard about before: somebody from the slums in Tana produces and sells lighting “systems”: it consistsvof an old bulb that is fitted with 3, 4 or 5 LEDs (old one from the lighters they sell here). The LED are powered by battery – usually people use the old ones that no longer power the radio. Therefore the light is not sufficient and the they use candels for eating and reading.

In the next village, we met the president of the local farmers association. When we arrived, they were busy cleaning and packig vegetables for a Hotel in Nosy Be. They formed an association to market their products, but also to buy seeds and fertilizer. In the case of illness etc. they even help out their members – an uncommon approach in the rather individualist, family-centered Malagasy society. The president made it clear that he wants to put the the “we” back into his village. He is the mastermind behind the association: He handels all the contacts to buyers and sellers (through the internet and via email), the is the one paying out the money to the farmers and the one who also organizes the education (IT, French) for the memebers of the association. He even spoke English! Due to the fact they market their products directly, they have a far larger income than the other farmers we talked to – and they spend a lot more on energy. One farmer told us that she bought about 8 Euro worth of candles every month. And in addition to that they buy batteries and have their phones and car batteries charged. Here in Madgascar it seems important to work on the income generation first, then try to sell something to people. And: IT helps a lot if there are people able to handle this tool.

Some learnings from last weeks’ interviews, focus groups and meetings

Just some quick thoughts:

1) Due to the small disposible income in the rural areas and the political instability, lager investments should be given a second and third thought.

2) One has to differenciate the target group – and electricity in larger quantities is affordable mainly for the poor that are not the poorest of the poor.There are communities that have already found a way to generate a certain stable income basis – often around to the cities – and therefore have some more money to spend. They might be location for a bigger kiosk, not just a small charing station.

3) Electricity is not a direct tool to promote education, health or improve income generation. Additional programmes are needed to reach this aims.

Building a house for gathering does not solve these problems – that would be nice for NGOs but people do not see a need for this. And indeed, usualy there is some place to gather: the house of the mayor, the school or the market (often covered with a roof).

4) One should use already scaled structures and scaled electricity from existing power plants to reduce investment costs and reach scale fast.

5) For payment, it seems a good idea not to rely too much on MFIs because a lot of people distrust them. That depends a lot on the experience they have made and should not be used as a general argument.

6) The right personal is key – we knew that before. But it turned out, that in every village there is usually an entrepreneur who runs a shop, the diesel generator or some other service based business.

 

This blog was authored by Claudia Knobloch and originally posted on Energize the BoP.