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.