Power Africa Awards Four Grants to Promote Productive Uses of Energy to Empower Kenyan Women
Power Africa, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has awarded $400,000 in grants to four companies operating in Kenya. The grantees — three suppliers of agricultural and off-grid solar products and a microfinance institution — will use these funds to introduce new products and services that will enable more Kenyan women to use clean energy to increase their incomes, electrify their businesses, and improve farming yields.
Productive use of energy (PUE) refers to the use of electricity not just for its own sake, but for activities that allow individuals and businesses to increase their incomes and their productivity.
From irrigation pumps, refrigerators, and mills, to hair-irons and televisions, many solar-powered devices can make businesses more efficient and attractive to customers, stimulating economic activity. Previously, access to these appliances relied on a connection to the electricity grid. Fortunately, solar energy can now provide clean, reliable off-grid power to a growing range of technology.
Recognizing Kenya as Africa’s fastest-electrifying country and East Africa’s leading market for solar-powered appliances, Power Africa is exploring ways to channel this market momentum toward more inclusive growth.
With strategic support, Kenya’s smallholder farmers, who grow and harvest nearly three-quarters of Kenya’s produce, can more easily obtain efficiency-enhancing solar-powered devices.
Female smallholder farmers play an increasingly important role, with a trend suggesting that Kenya’s share of female farmers is growing as men seek employment in cities. Yet female farmers have lower rates of asset ownership, and many find it difficult to afford supplies for their farms. Familial responsibilities can mean that women have less time to travel to attend events such as product demonstrations and information sessions for farmers. Women in other lines of business face similar barriers and are generally underserved in the energy market.
To help everyone benefit equally from off-grid solar power, Power Africa awarded grants to companies with business models that can make productive use technology more accessible to women, enable women to make the most of such technology, and attract further investment in PUE. The grants aim to:
- Introduce innovations to increase affordability and uptake of PUE technology among women, and lower barriers that women disproportionately face in gaining access to finance.
- Raise awareness of the benefits of PUE technology, especially among women.
- Help women develop business skills to earn or increase income through PUE.
Power Africa will support each grantee in developing a market-focused gender strategy.
Meet the Grantees
- Agsol will use its grant funding to design and pilot a pay-as-you-use financing solution for solar-powered mills — the first initiative of its kind — to make the devices more affordable for female entrepreneurs. Agsol will supply the solar mills to rural smallholder communities, whose members can use the equipment to process agricultural goods and offer milling as a service.
- Ecobora’s grant will enable the company to equip its 30 rural solar-powered kiosks with refrigerators that women can use to store and sell produce. Located in underserved areas and managed by local women’s groups, the kiosks will act as last-mile distribution points that offer refrigerators and solar-powered cookstoves on a pay-as-you-go basis. Ecobora estimates that refrigeration can reduce post-harvest losses by 70 percent. Ecobora will market the solar-powered refrigerators to women and farmers’ cooperatives, and will train women to maintain, sell, and use their products entrepreneurially.
- Rafode, a microfinance institution, will use its funding to offer lease-to-own contracts for a range of productive-use products, such as solar-powered refrigerators, shaving kits, and water pumps. Rafode will market these items to rural women, who make up 80 percent of its clients. The company expects that its leasing model will make its products more attainable.
- Sidai Africa, a woman-owned and -founded supplier of agricultural inputs, will introduce a new business line of solar-powered mills for poultry farmers. Sidai’s agricultural expertise and its distribution network will enable it to quickly roll out appliances that meet farmers’ needs and reduce their expenses. Sidai will approach women’s farming groups to increase awareness of its products among smallholders. Sidai and its partner, Productive Solar Solutions, will offer processing equipment such as hammer mills, which can be used to make chicken feed; this equipment will be available to individuals and farmers’ groups. Sidai expects to reach roughly 3,600 households and benefit at least 15,000 people in Kenya’s Kisii, Kisumu, and Nandi Counties.
These Kenya grants follow Power Africa grants of nearly $670,000 to five solar energy companies in Liberia, which also aim to help more people own and use productive appliances powered by renewable energy.
With both grant windows, Power Africa is disbursing funds to companies that can introduce productive-use technology to off-grid areas while offering dependable support to customers.