A harvest of sunshine
Every year, Nigeria losses an estimated $9 billion worth of fresh produce largely because she has no energy plan in its agricultural policies. Large swathes of smallholder farmers depend on rain-fed agriculture and an inability to preserve their produce means that 40 percent of their harvest goes to waste. This situation is driving some smart businesses to look to the sun which seems to hold the promise of a harvest of sunshine, writes ISAAC ANYAOGU.
Between September and November last year, the air around Ba’awa and Kadabo farming communities in Makarfi Local government area of Kaduna State, was tear-inducing, heavy and pungent with the smell of dried pepper.
This is due to farmers leaving their peppers to dry on roadsides and other open spaces. Forty-two year old Amina Bako has been drying pepper this way all her life. After the rainy season, she hires paid labour to pour out vast quantities of peppers harvested from her husband’s farm over a sack spread out on the ground under the glare of the fiery Kaduna sun.
“We wait up to five days to dry and be strong, and then we store it,” she said in fluent Hausa, “but it has too much problem.”
Not only is the process tedious, it is less rewarding. A valuable cash crop, an annual harvest of pepper represents about 40 percent of many families’ cash earnings for the year. By leaving them out to dry on open spaces, they are damaged by birds, rodents and rain, as well as contaminated by dust and debris. Some lose up to 30 percent of the harvest.
“Now it is different,” Amina says with a grin on her face, and a gleam in her eyes, as would someone whose dreams have come true.
For only N200, Amina dries a bag of pepper in half the time through an innovative solar-powered pepper dryer installed by Habiba Ali’s Sosai Renewable Energies Company, which is connecting rural women farmers with renewable energy powered agricultural processing technologies.
For 12,000 euros, Ali acquired the Innotech 18 Meter Tunnel Solar Dryer with support from Power Africa partner, the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF). Not only do the new solar dryers produce clean high quality peppers, 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.
“Baawa and Kadabo communities have over five hundred able bodied men involved in farming. Pepper is the key crop in this region and the people depend on it for cash, so over three quarters of these farmers grow peppers but about 40 percent is lost after harvest,” says Ali, MD/CEO of Sosai.
Her solution now assists the farmers dry their pepper in about two days. In these communities, 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, for between N200-N500 per bag, using the proceeds to pay back the cost of the dryer in instalments. This involvement in the management of the dryer has led to both women’s economic and social empowerment.
“First and quite importantly is that these dryers save time, saving them 2.5 days of the 5days it would normally take to dry the peppers. This has ensured that they get their peppers on time to get to the market and they do a better bid because they now have cleaner peppers ensuring they sell at a 20% premium.”
Besides just driving up profits, Amina like dozens of other women in the communities are now empowered enough to care for their families and keep their children in school.
Sosai also provides clean cook stoves, water filters, solar refrigerators, solar lamps and solar dryers through a lease-to-own model. These products and services are distributed through community center solar kiosks that are run by women entrepreneurs.
This structure allows Sosai to increase the incomes of both their products’ consumers and women entrepreneurs. For farmers, Sosai offers solar dryers, refrigerators and other services that enable them to preserve and package their product. This allows farmers to sell at a premium by taking advantage of off-season sales of preserved fruit.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation 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 techniques.
President Muhammadu Buhari speaking at the 20th anniversary of the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) Joint Venture’s Farmers’ Day held in Yenagoa, last year, lamented post-harvest losses estimated to be about $9bn annually in the agricultural sector.
This happens because Nigeria depends on rain-fed agriculture as its 264 dams with combined storage facility of 33 billion cubic meters (BCM) of water lie idle. Findings from a BusinessDay investigation last year, indicated that dams in Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti and Kwara states constructed to generate power and serve irrigation purposes have been abandoned.
Many of the farming communities do not even have power supply because Africa’s most populous country has not harnessed hydropower potentials from 127 sites across 20 states capable of yielding about 500MW of power according to a 2013 United Nations Industrial Organisation Development Organisation (UNDIO).
“Now is the time for the Ministries of Agriculture, Trade and Investment and Power to sit down and design a Powering Agriculture Programme for Nigeria. Solar drip Irrigation and renewable energy powered storage and transport systems should be designed along major agricultural corridors like LA-KA-JI,” says Godwin Aigbokhan, Renewable Energy Market Adviser at National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria.
The Lagos-Kano-JIbiya (LAKAJI) Corridor is a 1,225 km transport route that runs from the port of Lagos in the Southern part of Nigeria, through the commercial center of Kano, and ending in Jibiya at the border with Niger.
Nigeria currently loses about 40 to 50 per cent of fresh fruits and vegetables produced as a result of poor packaging, handling and preservation.
“This loss happens when food rots in markets, when it is poorly stored and can no longer be consumed, and when there is insufficient uptake from buyers,” explains Mamadou Biteye, the managing director for the Rockefeller Foundation Africa Regional Office.
In the absence of quick, official action, private organisations are rising to the challenge. Like Femi Oye’s GoSolar Africa which has recently introduced a solar powered refrigerator, capable of extending the shelf life of foods and vegetables from 2 to 21 days in markets around the country.
“The Solar Refrigeration kiosk operates with pure sine wave MPPT intelligent equipment that can transform the direct current to stable alternating current. It has decent appearance easy operation and visual indication of LCD with the project protection function, high charging efficiency and low-no load loss. Its capacity ranges from 21.2 Cubic meter, 33.2 cubic meters and 63.1 CM sizes,” said Oye in an interview with BusinessDay.
The company is re-purposing discarded fridges and converting them to solar fridges. It is also setting up cold rooms for storage of vegetables. Oye said farmers and market women are targeted in developing the product because they face a lot of challenges preserving their farm produce and leftover goods which reduces their profit.
“Customers pay from 50 naira /kwh ( $0.14/Kwh) of storage capacity. Go Solar operates an entrepreneurship business model that engages association of women, farmers and youths across the country. Customers and Farmers takes their farm produce to a nearby Cold Kiosk and deposit with our Operator for storage. Users don’t have to purchase a Kiosk, simply pay per use (PAYGo Model),” Oye.
So far the company has deplored its solar Cold Kiosk and Solar Freezers are installed all over the country, you can find our recent deployment in Sokoto state, Lagos, Ogun and Oyo State.
“The next five years will experience huge deployment of Solar Freezers, Cold kiosk supporting about 1million small holder farmers across Nigeria. We are already deploying consumer units of GoFreezers for SMEs and Market Women,” Oye said.
The project is also creating an ecosystem of sorts. “We are working primarily with local Smart entrepreneurs, Technicians and Secondary School Students. Our business is supported by the Power Africa USADF, GIZ and WinRock international,” said Oye.
Better quality of life
A visit to farming communities in Abuja and Kaduna indicate that for many of these farmers in rural areas, quality of life is just as important as keeping their farm produce fresh.
The Babban Gona (“Great Farm” in Hausa) an agricultural franchise, developed by Doreo Partners an impact investing firm with a proven track record of exclusively investing in profitable, high growth, early stage businesses is improving the livelihoods of Nigerian smallholder farmers.
Babban Gona assists hardworking smallholder farmers reach their full potential by providing a private sector channel for cost effective delivery of enhanced agricultural technologies and end-to-end services that optimize yields and labor productivity, while simultaneously improving market access. The group aims to transform subsistence farmers into intensive successful commercial farmers.
But closely following on the heels of the company is Anergy Solar Limited offering the farmers an opportunity to power their homes at night, charge their mobile phones and catch up with the latest happenings in the country.
Kunle Odebunmi, a Co-founder of Arnergy and a professional accountant, says, “The Babban Gona corporate has over 20,000 farmers and many of them live very far from the nearest electricity grid. So we decided to work with their corporative to provide them power, to enable them charge their phones, give them access to information with the objective of improving the quality of their lives,” said Odebunmi.
In Charwa/Chakun, in Markarfi Local government area of Kaduna state, each of the homes have sufficient solar electricity to power three LED light bulbs, an electric fan, a radio set and mobile phone charging system.
“I follow what is happening in Abuja,” said Usman, a local farmer. Pointing to a stacks of books on a mat in the sparsely furnished room, he said, “Halima , my daughter reads them to me at night, because of this light,” he said with a sense of pride.
Similar sentiments were expressed in Rije and Wuna communities in Abuja where Ajima farms and Azuri Technologies are powering the largely farming communities using biomass and solar energy respectively.
Ajima farms, control room, Rije, Abuja
Ajima farms managed by Fatima Ademoh, is powering Rije village in Kuje Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, with 20 kilowatts of biogas powered generators.
With a $150,000 grant from the United States African Development Foundation, USADF, the project, called Ajima Farms Biogas Digester Off-Grid, converts huge volumes of wastes generated from large poultry farms around the communities into power.
“We were presented with two problems, agricultural wastes that constitute hazards and villages that are not connected to the national grid. They need electricity and the gases released by these wastes into the atmosphere are 24 times dangerous more than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas,” said Ademoh in an interview.
The solution was to convert the waste to electricity watts: “Poultry, human and vegetables wastes are collected in a biogas digester, which generates gas and in turn powers a biogas generator and electricity generated from the generator is distributed by a minigrid system to power over five hundred people in the community,” Danladi, who mans the plant tells BusinessDay.
A largely agrarian community with about a hundred houses, a quarter being mud house, residents enjoy between 12 and 15 hours of power supply every day and pay less than N2,000 monthly.
Wuna, Gbagbalada, LGA, Abuja
“The light has been a blessing to my business,” says Augustine Iliah, who runs a sparsely stocked, and only local pharmacy in the community. “I can open my place till 10pm, there is security with street lights and people come in to buy at night,”
In January, Yemi Osinbajo, then Acting President, launched the Solar Home system powered by Azuri Ltd in Wuna village, Gbagbalada Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory.
Months later, a new industry has been born. Lawal Yakubu along with a half a dozen others now eke a living as installers of solar component. Residents pay N1,000 fee to top up power which lasts an average of 8 hours daily. They are issued a pin code which they input into the solar box. After 36,000 months, the solar infrastructure becomes theirs.
“Though I have not been here very long, but I can see the positive effect this is having on class attendance, many can now read in the night and their grades are up,” said Olusola Omolara, the head teacher of the local primary school.
Aisha Mohammad Yusuf, the wife of the Elsu of Wuna, the local traditional ruler tells BusinssDay that their lives in the community have taken a different turn with the deployment of rooftop solar systems.
“Please tell them to bring the ones with bigger capacity to carry fridges and television,” Aisha said. Wuna has never had power supply
Next step, large scale adoption
Ovoke Ekrebe, a renewable energy specialist with Vanpeux Global Synergy Limited opines that renewable energy are low-hanging-fruit source of energy for the agricultural sector.
“Most agricultural locations are in off-grid or under-served communities. It is easier for renewable energy to provide immediate relief than having to wait for grid extension. Also renewable energy, it can be localised for a specific project or group projects scaling it to size and budget.
“It is important to note that any form of policies and interventions that do not consider the entire value chain (from seedlings to the market – in the case of crops) will at best address a symptom from a range of symptoms in a complex illness,” Ekere avers.
According to Ekrebe, renewable energy can provide water for irrigation, drinking and cooling purposes, provide hot water for diary and livestock and provide drying and preservation of farm produce.
“With the desire of the country to be self-sufficient in food and agricultural production we cannot wish away our present power situation. However, we can use our God given abundant & natural renewable sources to achieve that goal,” Ekrebe says.
Odebunmi said Arnery is developing solar heating solutions for poultry and many of these innovations will be driven by private initiatives and scale can be achieved through better regulations With the success of the solar dryer, communities are seeking access to additional innovations.
The opportunities for increased post-harvest processing are leading farming communities to seek creative solutions that including 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 says Power Africa.
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