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The Sun Powering Climate Adaptation in Niger
The Sun Powering Climate Adaptation in Niger
AMAN BADER, NIGER – Disconnected from the grid, and challenged with long distances to towns and neighboring villages, people living in Aman Bader and other remote villages engaging in community-based adaptation with CARE’s Adaptation Learning Program (ALP) now have a reliable source of power for their mobile phones: the sun.
Mobile phone communication is relatively new in Niger. It started in 2002, and initially was only available to affluent residents of Niamey and Maradi. It has spread like a wildfire since, though, and now is available everywhere in Niger. Where there is service, the majority of men have “cellulaires,” and perhaps 20 to 40 percent of women do. This is evolving fast and represents a real social revolution, especially for people in the most remote areas. But charging the phones, especially for women, is often difficult and costly. Phones are usually recharged by purchasing a charge from a power stall at the local market – which may take place one day a week or in a town some distance away – or from a passing motorbike rider willing to share from his battery.
Small solar panels, on the other hand, are easy and relatively inexpensive to install everywhere. In 2012, the village of Aman Bader received a solar kit from CARE, capable of charging mobile devices with power from the sun.
“The women at the general assembly chose me to be in charge of it, because they trusted me with managing the revenues this would generate,” says Zennou Boukari, who has been in business for a long time selling peanut oil and palm oil.
Each time a phone is charged with Zennou’s solar power kit, a communal fund set up by her and the other women in the village makes 75 francs (about 12 cents). Sunshine, of course, is available in abundance in the Sahel region, so the solar kit generates a reliable and continuous income for the women’s fund. But the group decided to take it even further and manage their income in smart ways, as a source of credit and investment.
“We use the money to give the women of the village access to credit, normally between 10 and 20,000 francs (US$16-$33) at a time, which is usually paid back within a month or two at an interest rate of 10 percent. The loans are used for weddings or funerals usually, or to buy livestock, but they also help families buy food during the lean season.”
The profit made by charging interest on the loans gets reinvested in a community inventory credit system. “We buy cereals – millet mostly – for the women in the village, when it’s cheap, and stock it for sale when the prices go up,” Zennou says. “Just recently, for example, we made 122,740 francs back from about 100,000 francs paid out in loans. We used that to buy 45 kilos of millet, when the price was very low. We will sell it when the stocks elsewhere run low and the prices go up – this way the value of our stock can double or even triple.”
The time when the prices go up is also when people are hungriest, so the extra income will be particularly useful. “This system generates resources for dealing with crisis,” Zennou says. “It makes us more resilient.”
Without the chance to borrow and invest, people often have no choice other than to consume wild foods, ration their food intake, or leave the area when a crisis strikes.
But income, savings and credit are not the only way the solar kits help the people of Aman Bader and the other villages ALP works with become more resilient. They also play a crucial role in the villages’ community early warning and response mechanisms. Not only can people keep in touch with their relatives and friends more easily, but they also share the weather information they generate and receive a lot more quickly.
When it has rained, first thing in the morning, local volunteers use a dedicated mobile phone to pass on a rain gauge reading to the district authorities. Hours later, they hear their village’s name and corresponding amount of rainfall on the national radio. This news is followed even by relatives who have migrated to neighboring countries in search of seasonal labor. When they hear how much rain has fallen in their home, they know exactly when it is a good time to return to work in the fields.