Music as a driving force behind electricity

It’s been a while since we have been able to update our blog – first the internet connection in Tana was broken down, than we were on the road in the dry South of the country – without any Internet connection.

Visit to the slums of Tana

Last Thursday we visited the slums of Tana with a NGO called “Graines de Bitume” ( They offer afternoon classes for children from extremely marginalized families. The kids get additional tuition in French, Malagasy and math. After graduation, the NGO offers vocational trainings for professions like cook or car mechanic. The mission for that night (we went into the slums at dinner time, 6 am in complete darkness) was to visit some families who already have their children at Graines de Bitume and to talk to some who were interested in enlisting their kids with the NGO. During these visits we were able to ask some questions about their energy habits and their spending on energy – and we could enter their homes.

Their huts consisted of wood and old cement bags or foil – no windows, just a door. The about six square meters big houses had a bed, some storage space and some free floor space where the charcoal cooker stood. The families had up to 7 members – all sleeping in that one bed. Some of them were living in this tent city only temporarily till they gained some money to move into a house again in the neighboring slums quarters, but some of the houses also seem quite permanent. Nevertheless, they were not complaining too much about their life. We were impressed how friendly these extremely poor people were towards us.

Music and light in the slums

Their energy habits brought some interesting new patterns for us: They all had some source of light – a torch, a LED-lamp, candles or a kerosene lamp. That differed according to personal preferences. One woman recently had a baby therefore she had bought a clean and safe LED-light. The torch was important because it was their tool for work – looking for usable stuff in the waste baskets of town. Surprisingly, none of the people had a mobile phone. That seems to be a lot more important in the country side where distances are long and means of transport are scarce. The most important use for energy was – the radio! One of the guys even had a huge loudspeaker that he can only power with a car battery that he charges for 1,000 Ariary every few days. There is a lot of music in the Malagasy energy market!

Trip to the sunny South

On Friday we flew to Tuléar, a town with about 120,000 inhabitants in the South of Madagascar. Our main interest was to visit the fishing village St. Augustin that has been electrified with solar home systems and a battery charging station. We also met Blue Venture, a maritime conservation NGO which collaborates with UNICEF in the “Connecting Classrooms” programme. BV’s Shawn Peabody presented their work at the West Coast 200 km North of Tuléar that not only includes conservation but also community building, income generation and health programmes. The NGO is about to set up a “Connected Classroom” to teach kids the use of computers and do some environmental education. Unfortunately, classroom will not be connected due to the lacking Internet connection. They would be quite happy to become an ITC village.

Gathering and analyzing data

We used Saturday to gather all our ideas and to draw a map of the Malagasy economic ecosystems. That showed us again the big constraints like little disposable income, lack of infrastructure and unreliable political system. But we also came up with some ideas how we could make our business model work. We are still elaborating these ideas and will test them in our next focus group.

Again: Meeting with Malagasy superstars

On Saturday night we stumbled into a semi-private “club concert” of the Malagasy superstar Tence Mena ( She is supposed to be the Malagasy “Lady Gaga” but she rather looked like Rihanna and her music was the typical dance music from the coast. But what an event for Tuléar! The tickets were 15,000 Ariary (6 euro). Here you get 10 big bags of charcoal (cooking fuel for roughly 4 months), 15 kg of rice or a double room in a rural hotel for this money. Only the well-off Malagasies or the European expats could afford these tickets. The girls were all dressed up in very short dresses and very high heels, some of them showing up with their French, very old husband/partner. The prime minister was there as well – and Clau learned some Malagasy dances. Quite a change to our usual rural crowd!

Visit to an electrified fishing village

On Sunday we met ADES’ local representatives (, the Swiss couple Frei who took us to St. Augustin ( The fishing village has been partly electrified with the help of a battery charging station, some solar home systems and a small wind mill. The upfront investment was provided by ADES and its founder Regula Ochsner. In 2008 ADES started to plan the project and installed the first 100 pilot systems. There are four different systems: a battery charging station, an individual system that charges one lamp, an individual system that provides energy for a light, charging of phones and small batteries and a bigger system that enables the user in addition to that to store the energy in a battery box. The technical sides does not provide any problems, the biggest challenges for the project are on the organizational side and in collecting the payments.

ADES has been changing a lot of parameters over time and will analyze the project next year in detail to see how they will continue with this kind of work. One big challenge for ADES is a rather paradox one: St. Augustin has been a “donor darling” for some years. A lot of well drilling, road building etc. has been done there – not all of the projects were sustainable and success. Therefore people in St. Augustin are on the one hand used to donor money (and quite demanding) but on the other hand also frustrated and thus not easy to satisfy.

But one common pattern: on Sunday afternoon loud music was all over the village – powered by a diesel generator.


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

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