A project initiated by Sosai Renewable Energies Company is proving that access to sustainable, reliable electricity opens the door to an array of new economic opportunities.

In 2017, the social enterprise, based in Kaduna State in Northern Nigeria, designed and implemented a community development project after receiving a grant from the United States African Development Fund (USADF). The project involved the installation of two solar mini-grids, two solar kiosks and two solar dryers for agricultural processing, all within different rural communities in Kaduna.

Sosai has always worked in rural communities of northern Nigeria. One thing that stood out with one of the beneficiary communities, Kadabo, Makarfi Local Government Area, was the people’s desire to own their own grid connection. Sosai predominantly works on customised projects, and this came out strongly when they ran the baseline studies with the community. They found community members had no access to electricity and were over 15km from the closest grid connection.

Regular visits showed that farmers lost over 40% of tomato and pepper farm yield due to lack of access to preservation options. This resulted in the dryer component being added to the project and since women’s groups were already working there, it was a natural step to support them, allowing them to manage a solar kiosk to improve their economic activity as well.

From inception to reality, the project took about nine months and as a one-year project from the USADF, time to test run before the final inspection and official launch. The United States African Development Fund was the funding partner and Sosai took responsibility for the project from inception to reality. Sosai was responsible for the project design, community engagement, installation and maintenance of the project from start to finish.

The target communities had never been electrified and the expectation of the project was to connect 50 households to the mini-grids. Now, 86 households and businesses are connected to these mini-grid systems, four new businesses have been created and thanks to the solar kiosks and dryers, 30 women have become economically empowered. The project is now at a completed stage and being used fully with households being connected and farmers using the dryers.

The project brought with it some challenges. For example, during the installation phase, getting the equipment to site was quite daunting due to the terrain. An ongoing hurdle is that there are still homes trying to bypass the meters and get electricity for free.

One key result is that Sosai has electrified more homes than they had originally planned for and people are coming from neighbouring communities to start businesses in close proximity to the ones with mini-grids.

Not only has it encouraged new business but also uplifted old ones. For example, one resident, AmiruGarba, lives in one of the mini-grid communities. Prior to the mini-grid installation, Garba was a petty trader, but with a stable power source brought to the community, he saw a new business opportunity. He loaned money to buy a freezer and started selling cold drinks to locals out of his home. The income he has earned from his business has not only allowed him to pay back the loan, but he also now owns his own shop.

This is a highly replicable and scalable project and Sosai are going to implement this project in about seven more communities across the area. It’s important to note that farmers are not the only ones empowered by the dryer installations. These dryers are managed by women recruited by the Matan Arewan SosaiInitiative, giving them new employment opportunities as part of a profitable venture.

The Sosai project is a strong example of the far-reaching economic and social benefits of bringing renewable energy access to last-mile communities that do not have grid access. Across Nigeria, only 23% of the rural population has access to electricity. Initiatives such as the one Sosai has carried out will ensure that all communities can enjoy a piece of Africa’s economic expansion pie, by creating new opportunities and by fostering current local business ventures.