Left: Women on the MC of Zambala work on the installation of the solar system in the maternity clinic. Here they are preparing cable for the lights.
Right: Two members of the MC of Tabakoro clean the school solar panel to avoid build up of dust and keep the system working at maximum efficiency.
Solar Rural Electrification to combat Rural Exodus (Danida)
This project, active in 23 villages in Koumantou Municipality, seeks to improve living conditions in rural areas through installation of solar energy systems for water pumping, lighting in schools and public squares (see photo left), and lighting and refrigeration in clinics. Local technicians are trained for operation and maintenance tasks for long term sustainability. Local government is involved in management.
Rural Exodus - draining rural communities of young talent
Rural Exodus is the well-known phenomenon whereby people leave their villages to try and find work in the cities, and it is a problem that needs tackling in many developing countries. It generally occurs because villagers and inhabitants of rural areas, especially young people who represent the future of such communities, feel there are no opportunities where they live. In Mali, it means that people move to the cities during the dry season, mainly to the capital Bamako, to find work. It reduces the human resource base of the villages, robbing the community of many of its most dynamic members, and contributes to all the problems associated with urbanisation: overcrowding, crime, delinquency, drug abuse, prostitution and the spread of AIDS.
The project is being implemented in the villages of Tabakoro, Niamala and Zambala, in the Sikasso region of Mali, 200 km south of Bamako. The total population of the three villages is about 4500. The Mali-Folkecenter (the representation of the Danish Folkecenter in Mali) is working hand-in hand with the target group to successfully complete the project, with technical support from Folkecenter in Denmark. The project consists of installation of solar panels in three villages for water pumping, lighting in schools, lighting of public squares, and lighting and refrigeration of medicines and vaccines in the clinics. Electrification of the schools for evening adult literacy classes, and of the clinics for improved healthcare provision, will have an added outreach, as these facilities also serve people in the surrounding villages. An additional 20 schools and clinics in the surrounding area will be installed with solar lighting. Local people work with Mali-Folkecenter installing the equipment, and are trained to maintain it.
The project will act to reduce the Rural Exodus by encouraging a diversification of economic activities, improving health conditions, and improving the quality of life for the inhabitants. Long-term sustainability will be ensured by the sale of pumped water (at a price all villagers can afford), which will provide funds for social measures and maintenance of the solar installation. A comprehensive training programme will give the villagers the skills they need for management and repairs.
Implementation Strategy the Keys to Sustainability
1. Executive Committee
Mali-Folkecenter works closely with the village organisational structures who are responsible for the operation and maintenance of equipment once it is installed. The Executive Committee is made up of responsible, respected members of the village communities and ‘ressortissants’ (people from the villages who now work in Bamako) so it is representative of the villages while also benefitting from the presence of highly educated people. The Executive Committee has played a pivotal role in the project, providing linkages and facilitating communication between Mali-Folkecenter and the villagers. The Executive Committee has a long tradition of supporting development activities in the villages.
2. Maintenance Committees (MCs)
A Maintenance Committee of 8 men and women has been created in each village, responsible for working with Mali-Folkecenter to install the equipment. Mali-Folkecenter has provided practical training to the Maintenance Committee, in order to build the capacity and the technical expertise necessary to operate and maintain the solar systems. This training has been built up step by step over the months, with emphasis on participation and physically performing the tasks, to allow real understanding.
3. Rural Solar Energy Training Centre
The training program has involved construction of the Solar Training Centre in the village of Tabakoro, where rural solar technicians will be trained in installation, operation and maintenance tasks. The buildings were constructed by the beneficiaries (the people of the three villages) as part of their contribution to the project. The Centre will be used to train people from the twenty villages in the commune which will receive solar lighting installations in clinics or schools as a further part of the project. Each village will supply 4 people who will be responsible for the maintenance of the system installed in their village, and these volunteers will receive their training at the Centre. It will be a resource where rural Malian technicians can get hands-on experience and the concrete skills needed for installation of solar systems. Trainees will learn by actually installing systems, gaining the competence necessary for future work. It will show that solar power need not be expensive (typically less than 1 USD per villager for a school lighting system), and may inspire other village communities to pay for their own installations. This, surely, is the way to achieve widespread use of this technology. The Solar Training Centre will build capacity, creating a knowledge base that can be drawn on in the future, and will allow adult literacy training and improved healthcare conditions for hundreds of people.
4. Generation of revenue to pay for maintenance & repairs
The water provideded by the solar pumping system will be sold to provide income for repairs and maintenance, including eventual payment of members of the Maintenance Committees. This is vital to the long term sustainability.
These four components, when added to the continuous sensitisation and follow-up by Mali-Folkecenter, constitute the backbone of the project, ensuring that it fits the socio-cultural context, that the equipment will be integrated into village life, and that it will continue to function in the long term, providing important and highly valued basic energy services to the populations of the villages.
Left: Installation of panels on rural clinic.
Right: Learning how to commission batteries.
Left: high quality solar lighting allows adult literacy training in the evenings.
Right: members of the adult literacy group of Niamala.