Renewable Energy Innovations: Transforming Agricultural Processing and Empowering Women

Matan Arewan women in Baawa manage the solar dryer. Photo credit — Sosai Energies

Matan Arewan women in Baawa manage the solar dryer. Photo credit — Sosai Energies

This post originally appeared on Power Africa's Medium page for World Food Day. 
 

The peppers grown in Kaduna, Nigeria have always been appreciated for their bright red color. But this year’s harvest is looking brighter than ever. Drying on the newly installed Innotech 18 Meter Tunnel Solar Dryer, this year’s crop is expected to increase the incomes of region’s women farmers by 30 percent.

Sosai Renewable Energies founder and winner of the U.S. African Development Foundation's Off-Grid Energy Challenge, Habiba Ali, is committed to improving the lives of women in rural Nigeria through innovative renewable energy technologies. Acknowledging the importance of the agricultural sector to women, and the tremendous potential renewable energy innovations have to improve productivity in the sector, Sosai Renewable Energies is connecting women farmers with the renewable energy powered agricultural processing technologies they need to improve their livelihoods.

Women play a major role in agriculture and the introduction of the solar-powered technology will go a long way to improve their economic and social status. 
—  Habiba Ali, Founder of Sosai Energies Nigeria
The solar dryer at the Kadabo facility. Photo credit — Sosai Energies.

The solar dryer at the Kadabo facility. Photo credit — Sosai Energies.

In Nigeria, peppers are a valuable cash crop, and the annual harvest represents about 40 percent of many families' cash earnings for the year. Yet despite their economic importance, for years much of the region’s peppers were going to waste. In the past, peppers were dried by laying them on the tar roadside, allowing them to be damaged by birds, rodents and rain, as well as contaminated by dust and debris. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO), nearly one-third of all food produced globally for human consumption goes to waste, much of this a function of poor post-harvest processing.

With support from the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), a Power Africa partner, Habiba has been able to introduce the Innotech 18-meter solar dryer to the Baawa and Kadabo communities. Not only do the new solar dryers produce clean high quality peppers, but they are able to dry them in half the time, so farmers can dry twice as much of their produce and sell it at premium rates.

Women undertake 70% of post-harvest activities, so Sosai Renewable Energies is working with women to serve as the custodians of the solar dryers. They rent out the use of the dryers, using the proceeds to pay back the cost of the dryer in installments. This involvement in the management of the dryer has led to both women’s economic and social empowerment.

With the introduction and success of the solar dryer, communities are seeking access to additional innovations. Seeing the opportunities for increased post-harvest processing, communities are hoping to expand their farming practices through solar irrigation pumps and solar refrigeration. Solar irrigation could allow for out of season farming while solar refrigeration would allow crops to be better preserved and sold at higher prices. The combined impact of these innovations is expected to reduce crop waste and increase farmers’ incomes by an additional 30 percent. 

Additionally, in recognizing the important linkages between off-grid energy and smallholder agriculture, USADF has recently launched an ‘agriculture-energy nexus’ initiative to fund cooperatives and entrepreneurs with energy solutions to improve agricultural efficiency and productivity.

This post originally appeared on Power Africa's Medium page for World Food Day. 

Q&A With President/CEO C.D. Glin: Youth as a Force for Good in the Fight Against Hunger

The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) is providing seed capital to young entrepreneurs who are using a business mindset to solve problems like food insecurity. We sat down with USADF President/CEO C.D. Glin to discuss USADF’s role in supporting youth-led enterprise in Africa, especially when it comes to fighting hunger. In this interview, Glin discusses the unique role that USADF plays in providing catalytic seed capital to young entrepreneurs to grow their agribusiness.

 

Taita Ngetich, founder of Illuminum Greenhouses, is linking smallholder farmers with “smart” greenhouse technology, one of the many ways young entrepreneurs are boosting food security in their communities. Photo credit: Ellington Arnold

Taita Ngetich, founder of Illuminum Greenhouses, is linking smallholder farmers with “smart” greenhouse technology, one of the many ways young entrepreneurs are boosting food security in their communities. Photo credit: Ellington Arnold

How does the U.S. African Development Foundation’s model prioritize youth entrepreneurship?

The U.S. African Development Foundation was created in 1980 to create pathways to prosperity for underserved communities. The population on the African continent has changed drastically since that time, and we see a major need to include young people in our economic development work. We must harness their power and leverage this economic asset in order to make strides in global food security.

Fortunately, USADF is designed to be nimble and move quickly to award grants and pilot projects that addresses these challenges. Our youth-led enterprise grants are unique because what we are really funding are ideas, empowering youth across the continent to think of new, innovative solutions to challenges in their communities.

Since 2014, we’ve provided over 150 young entrepreneurs with seed capital to expand their social enterprises. Over a quarter of these youth-led enterprises are involved in agribusiness, so we see that young people are looking for ways to make agriculture profitable and commercial. Smallholder farming can be a powerful force in the fight to end hunger, and young entrepreneurs are leading the way.  Young entrepreneurs are bringing new strategies to the world of smallholder farming and funding their ideas is essential to meeting the food security needs of a growing continent.

 

What is USADF’s role in encouraging youth to embrace opportunities in agriculture?

Youth all over the world, particularly in Africa, are increasingly finding new and entrepreneurial ways to rewrite the rules and find new ways of solving social problems.  Agriculture in Africa employs over 65 percent of its labor force, but a majority of these producers are smallholder farmers with low yields and low economies of scale. USADF is attracting young people to agriculture by using the entrepreneurial spirit to commercialize small-scale agriculture into productive, profitable ventures. This way, we can not only use agriculture as the job-creation engine for unemployed youth, but also to end global hunger.


What are some innovative ways that you have seen youth get involved in agribusiness?

I spent the last five years living in Kenya, so I’ll use an example of a young entrepreneur named Eric Muthomi, founder of Stawi Foods in Kenya. He started his business when he noticed that smallholder bananas producers suffered from market saturation and spoilage while waiting to sell their goods. We invested $25,000 in Stawi Foods to jumpstart this agribusiness, which links smallholder banana farmers in rural Kenya with direct market access, and produces value-added products such as banana chips and gluten free flour. By buying bananas from over 400 farmers year-round, Stawi Foods protects producers from market fluctuations and can increase their household food security by creating stable incomes on which families can depend. Here we see a good example of an entrepreneurial mindset to take age-old problems-- market saturation and food waste-- and turn it into a business opportunity. These are the types of enterprises that USADF is supporting across the continent.

Increasingly, youth are innovating with modern technologies to find new ways to increase agricultural outputs. Taita Ngetich, founder of Illuminum Greenhouses, is linking smallholder farmers with “smart” greenhouse technology to help them expand their yields and increase incomes. In youth entrepreneurship, we again see the role of technology in improving food security and increasing incomes. USADF is helping to digitize and scale some of these pilot projects across bigger regions.
 

How does youth entrepreneurship benefit both the private sector and food security?

Entrepreneurs are an important part of the ecosystem to help open market opportunities for private investment. They create markets where there often are none, and help pave the way for future economic development. Consumer spending on the African continent is expected to grow by 40% by 2020, creating new markets for private investment and U.S. trading partners. The young entrepreneurs that USADF has selected to invest seed capital have already seen a return on investment: in the first year of the program, over 60 percent received follow-on funding in private investment. By investing in and engaging with youth, we can give entrepreneurs the tools they need to quickly transform their agribusiness, make it profitable, attract private investments and result in higher yields and greater food security.
 

How does USADF partner with other organizations and U.S. Government agencies to strengthen global food security?

USADF is one of 11 participating Feed the Future partners, and is helping to address the root cause of poverty and hunger at the grassroots. With the enactment of the Global Food Security Act and its implementation over the past year, USADF’s grassroots-level support has been amplified through enhanced interagency coordination.

In 2016, we teamed up with the Citi Foundation to support youth-led enterprise in Africa. Together, we’ve supported 40 entrepreneurs with nearly $1 million in seed capital. These entrepreneurs have impacted over 2,000 families by training young Africans, creating jobs, and sourcing from smallholder farmers to turn agriculture into a thriving business.