Bringing Cleaner, More Reliable Cooking Solutions and Electricity to Northern Cameroon
Ngomna Nyouma is a barber in Sekande, a small village near Maroua in northern Cameroon. While power lines run past the village, connecting to the grid is too expensive for most residents, leaving few with access to electricity. For Ngomna, this meant relying on razor blades and small knives to cut his clients’ hair. Today, Ngomna’s business is powered by an off-grid energy solution that enables him to use electric hair clippers and offer a phone-charging station for his customers.
Ngomna’s solar power system and solar-powered tools are provided by Solkamtech, a clean energy company and one of three recipients of a USAID-funded Power Africa grant focused on distributed electricity services and modern cooking fuels. The solar system employs a pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) model, which allows customers to access electricity for a small daily fee, without a prohibitively large upfront cost.
Every day Ngomna sees two to four customers for haircuts and at least ten people who want to charge their phones. His business brings in around $3.00 (1,600 West African Francs) per day, enough to cover the PAYGO credit for his solar system and still earn a respectable profit. After 18 months his credit will be paid off and he will own the solar-powered system.
Ngomna’s business is one example of how Solkamtech’s PAYGO financing of solar home systems (SHS) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cookstoves is enabling new income-generating activities in northern Cameroon. Through support from the Power Africa grant, Solkamtech can now bundle LPG cookstoves and SHS into a single payment plan, optimizing its customer service strategy to bring clean energy to rural, off-grid regions of Cameroon. Solkamtech partnered with SCTM, a Cameroonian cooking-gas company that supplied the 12.5-kg cylinder and initial LPG, as well as with the microfinance institution Crédit du Sahel to provide customer credit. Solkamtech bundled the LPG system with SHS products by Solego and Sun King, offering a repayment period of 12 to 18 months through PAYGO software designed by Angaza.
Most people in northern Cameroon depend on kerosene lamps or small SHS for lighting. Many people have cell phones but find charging them a challenge, often turning to entrepreneurs or friends with diesel-powered generators to recharge their devices. Appliances like refrigerators, fans, and televisions, are rare. Villagers’ incomes are largely dependent on agriculture and are thus seasonal, limiting their buying power for technology. They also have concerns about the safety of LPG cookstoves and have limited experience with taking on credit and negotiating deposits and installments. In this environment, businesses need to build awareness and gain trust.
Solkamtech first had to gain the approval and cooperation of traditional chiefs and other local leaders, contacting them in advance of site visits, informing them of the products’ functions, and explaining the payment terms. These leaders then passed the information on to villagers; some chiefs demonstrated the products in their homes. Solkamtech’s sales team lived in these communities for weeks at a time, building relationships; demonstrating products in market squares; answering questions; and managing orders, installation, and after-sales service. Solkamtech’s collaborative approach was especially effective in the village of Lahay, where none of the 456 villagers had electricity. After the company’s arrival, it electrified and supplied LPG to 38 households, giving 266 inhabitants, or almost 60 percent of the population, access to clean power and cooking fuel.
The Chief of Lahay village, Mahamat Souhaibou Bahar, said:
Access to SHS and LPG as sources of energy has increased the number of productive hours in the village, especially in households, with positive effects on education and economic growth. [W]e can access local and international news through TV and radio, our children can study in the evening, and we can have stores that open late at night.
Solkamtech also focused on economic benefits for women. Albertine Eppeteouka, who lost the function of some of her limbs in an accident, is one such woman. Solkamtech’s LPG-SHS bundle allows Albertine to be financially independent. With her SHS, she charges about 20 phones and averages six haircuts a day with her solar-powered hair clippers. To supplement this income, Albertine sells doughnuts and coffee that she prepares with her LPG system.
Another of Solkamtech’s beneficiaries is Ntyam Habiba Bomia Philomène, a mother of two children and Solkamtech’s Sales and Marketing Manager. Although she notes that balancing childcare and her career can be tricky, Philomène has felt inspired by Solkamtech’s grant activities:
This program allowed me to discover the realities of the field, mainly in the Far North Region, and to develop an idea of improving the living conditions of women in this part of the country. In some localities, the population is surprised to see a woman performing these tasks and come in large numbers out of curiosity.
Solkamtech’s LPG-SHS bundles also have wider economic and quality-of-life benefits. Business owner Blaise Diberko installed a 32-inch television and LPG system in his café. The lighting allows him to extend his business hours, and the television helps to attract and retain customers. Aissatou is building a kitchen for the restaurant that he plans to open with his spouse, and LPG will be the source of energy for cooking.
The Distributed Electricity Services and Modern Cooking Fuel Delivery grant is administered by the USAID-funded Power Africa Off-grid Project in support of Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid initiative, which contributes to the goal of adding at least 30,000 megawatts of cleaner and more reliable electricity generation capacity and 60 million new home and business connections by 2030.