Competition Winner: Kossi Elom Balao

Kossi Elom Balao is the editor-in-chief and CEO of AfricaWeb, an independent journalism company dedicated to in-depth reporting and high-quality investigative journalism about the issues that matter most to Africans. He writes about science, environment, energy, technology and climate change issues and is also deeply interested in issues facing farmers in rural areas.



In Togo, women bring solar energy and hope to farmers

Togolese Solar Mamas successfully install Solar System making their village clinic off-grid. Photographer: Lar Bolands 2014

A togolese solar mama succesfully installs solar system making their village clinic off-grid. 

In Agome-Sevah, a village located in the southeast of Togo, farmers are now smiling and have hope to rise out of poverty due to solar electricity installed in the entire village by four illiterate women.

Adjoa Amegbleame, a 38 years old mother of seven, was singing and filled with enthusiasm selling doughnut to a customer. “I am making more profit. Selling my doughnut now in the night has become a fact of my life”.

“Now I can settle here every night and not having any more to fight against the wind which in the past used to blow and threat to extinguish the lantern which serves me as lighting” added the woman.

Mialo Tassi, a Solar Grandmother on her way to erecting solar panels at a small village home in Agome Sevah. Photographer: Lar Boland 2014

Amegleame, like many others in Agome-Sevah, now have electricity. And they feel secure when selling in late in the night. Two years ago, life was really tough in the village. There was no electricity. The whole village was living in darkness and was not connected to the public electricity grid. The main sources of energy used are wood and charcoal for cooking; oil for lighting. Sourcing raw materials to produce energy is an increasingly important expense item in the household budget. As a result, the potential for economic activity is reduced, which reinforces the precariousness of the inhabitants and pushes young people into exodus. A farmer met on his maize farm declared that “we can now charge our phones at home. And my wife is no more setting off on miles for grinding the millet or grilling corn.” This situation has been made possible by a local association named Dekamile, association which has implemented the project of the whole village electrification using solar energy.

The association sent four illiterate women to India for six months training in solar electrification. In September 2016, “on their return, we ordered solar components and when this equipment reached Agome-Sevah, the four women engineers installed them on each household. 153 households in total are covered today” said Dethanou Logossou, the general secretary of Dekamile association.

Solar Grandmothers outside a newly built clinic which they are about to solar electrify. Photographer: Lar Boland 2014

These women have changed the living conditions of the 1500 inhabitants representing the population of Agome Sevah. Today, these installations enable 175 households to have light at night from a clean, renewable source of energy, and to reduce the cost of purchasing kerosene.

In Togo, the lack of access to electricity is alarming. It’s a serious problem. The country is in a dire situation due to energy poverty. Togo is the smallest country in West Africa with a population of about 7 million. According to the World Bank, the access to electricity in Togo is 45,7%. In rural areas, the situation is even worse. The recent rural electrification rate is 7% and the Togolese government intends to increase it to 40% by 2022.

To achieve that objective, the country has launched the CI-ZO initiative that aims at electrifying more than 2 million people. CI-ZO will cost approximately CFAF 8.7 billion (about $ 15 million). To this amount will be added 60 billion CFA (about $ 102.5 million) of private investment; the ultimate goal is to reach 300,000 households.

The pilot phase that will be launched during this year aims at distributing 20,000 individual kits. This commercialization will be ensured by private actors, while the State will take care of setting up the conditions necessary for its implementation. The government was motived by the impact project that the Dekamile association has launched and the executive also hopes to provide massive electrification for the rural population.

Impact on community

Togolese Solar Mama Class of 2014. Photographer:, Lar Boland 2014

Sitting under a tree, a mason and poultry farmer did not hide his joy and happiness because of access to electricity. “In the past, when we did not have electricity, my children were forced to leave home and go to learn elsewhere under a light provided by a generator.” “Sometimes they were forced to go to their schools to avail themselves of the light” he deplored. “In the middle of the night, thieves came to steal my chickens, guinea-fowls and ducks because the enclosure was not lit, due to the lack of access to electricity” regretted this sexagenarian, who is happy that this problem was solved by the solar energy implemented in the village. To improve the living conditions of the people of Agome-Sevah, Dekamile has established a partnership with Barefoot College in India. This partnership consisted in taking charge of the trip to India of 4 local women for a 6-months training to enable them to become energy engineers. The solar electrification project of Agome-Sevah, while contributing to the fight against climate change has allowed the creation of a source of income, mainly for 4 women (installation and maintenance costs of equipment), the development of nocturnal economic activities in the village (opening of grocery stores, sale of donuts and agricultural products at night, etc.), strengthening of safety through lighting, general improvement of sanitary conditions and school equipment and peripheral care unit for better working conditions.

For Adjoa Amegbleame, there’s no doubt that solar energy has empowered her business and completely changed her life. “Now I have a lot of money to supply my family’s needs and to pay my children school fees.”

Village Chief has given his blessings to these four Togolese Mamas who will return in 6 months to solar electrify the community. Photographer: Lar Bolands 2014

Having returned to Agome Sevah after a six month training period at the Barefoot College the Solar Grandmothers set about training others at their workshop. Photographer: Lars Boland 2014

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