Ghana: Women bring light (literally) to rural communities

February 10, 2019
A translation for this article is available in French

Mabel Akanyinte installs solar panels in remote, off-grid communities in northern Ghana. It’s hard work that sometimes requires climbing on roofs to configure cables and mount light bulbs. Many people consider this men’s work. But Ms. Akanyinte works alongside six other women installation agents in the Northern Region, providing life-saving energy for families that need it most.

She says, “It is difficult work that women are not supposed to do. So when [the community members] saw us doing the installation, they were a bit surprised.”

In West Africa, more than 150 million people lack electricity. Some households spend up to 30% of their income burning toxic fuels like kerosene, which pollute the environment and result in health complications that cause more deaths in sub-Saharan Africa than HIV and malaria combined. Sustainable sources of renewable energy are in high demand, but challenges include poor road infrastructure, patchy mobile networks, and affordability.

Ms. Akanyinte works for a company called PEG Africa, which operates in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal, and is the largest off-grid solar company in West Africa. The company installs solar home systems through a “pay-as-you-go” approach and uses a network of on-the-ground agents in remote communities.

Since 2011, PEG has operated predominantly in the southern regions of Ghana. This year, the company expanded into the northern regions, where education and income levels are much lower. Here, they are using a different approach to reach customers and increase employment opportunities for women.

Michael Avle is the head of marketing and partnerships at PEG. He says: “In the north, we found we needed to have community ambassadors who are influential people who live in the communities and who understand the terrain.” So PEG decided to take advantage of village savings and loans associations or VSLAs to reach their customers.

Dominica Kafari is the VSLA programs coordinator for PEG in Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region. She oversees a team of brand ambassadors who work with VSLAs throughout the northern regions to sell and install PEG’s solar home system. Throughout the country, installers are mostly men; women hold less than 5% of the positions.

Ms. Kafari says: “The initial reaction [when I hired the women] was, ‘Will I be the one who will install? Will I have to climb the roof?’ But I tell them it is easy. I have six women and we are working, we are selling, we are installing. We are doing everything the men are doing.”

In Ghana, solar energy accounts for just 1% of the country’s total energy usage, while fossil fuels and hydro account for 59% and 40%, respectively. But this year, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo committed to increasing the country’s solar power usage by tenfold over the next 12 years. This could mean a promising future for clean energy and increased employment opportunities across the country.

The widespread use of solar systems means more than just a cleaner environment and healthier households. Access to solar energy means that families can power the lights at night so their children can study. It also means customers can build a credit history and eventually own their solar system while saving for other expenses.

As for Ms. Akanyinte, she sees the impact of her work on a regular basis. She says, “I like the work because it puts smiles on people’s faces. People are happy to have light.”

PEG Africa advertises on radio programs that are produced in Ghana with the assistance of Farm Radio International.