Kenya: Maasai women lead solar revolution (Trust)

| June 29, 2015

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People in Magadi used to feel uneasy when dusk fell. Farmers worried about their cattle being easy prey for hyenas and leopards. Children lit fires so they had enough light to finish their schoolwork in smoke-filled rooms.

But now, as dusk falls, electric lights flick on across this sleepy hamlet in Kajiado County, part of southern Kenya. More than 200 Maasai women have started a solar revolution.

The women have been trained how to install solar panels. They are giving local families their first experience of clean and reliable power.

Jackline Naiputa heads the Osopuko-Edonyinap group, one of five women’s groups providing solar power to local villages. She says, “For us, the impact of solar technology is unparalleled.”

The women buy solar panels, lights, and small rechargeable batteries at discounted prices from an organization called Green Energy Africa. They sell them to villagers at a profit of around 300 shillings [US$3] per item, then use the profits to buy more equipment.

Mrs. Naiputa lost 10 goats to wild cats in 2014. Her teenage son used to spend cold nights in the cattle enclosure, guarding their herd. Now solar lamps hang around her homestead, and Mrs. Naiputa and her four children sleep soundly in the warmth of their home. She explains, “The light scares the hyenas away, so we don’t have to worry about losing our animals at night.”

Green Energy Africa started the Women and Entrepreneurship in Renewable Energy Project in 2014. The project trains women to install solar panels and promote the concept of clean energy to their fellow pastoralists in Kajiado County.

About 2,000 households in this part of Kajiado County have adopted solar technology since the project began in late 2014. Villagers appreciate solar power because of its affordability and convenience, and because, unlike kerosene and firewood, it does not damage their health.

Mrs. Naiputa’s family used to spend 40 Kenyan shillings [US$0.40] a day on kerosene and over 100 shillings [US$1] every week to charge their two mobile phones at a weekly market 15 kilometres away.

But villagers are not only saving money. According to Kenya’s National Environmental Management Authority, deforestation in Kajiado County has slowed now that families are adopting solar power. And fewer people will suffer the damaging effects of inhaling smoke from their nightly fires.

Lamarck Oyath is an energy expert and the managing director of Lartech Africa Limited, a technology and consultancy firm. He says: “Kenya has great potential for … solar energy throughout the year… Yet so far, the country gets less than two per cent of its energy from solar power.”

Mrs. Naiputa and the other villagers who have adopted solar power are enjoying huge benefits. But it is not just the clean energy they are enjoying. Mrs. Naiputa says: “Our community customs do not allow women to own any property. But now, women here own the solar technology, and it is something we are very happy about.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, Toting panels on donkeys, Maasai women lead a solar revolution, go to:

Photo: Maasai women trained as solar installers carry their wares on donkeys in Kajiado County, Kenya. Credit: TRF/Leopold Obi