In sub-Saharan Africa, 80% of agricultural production is undertaken by smallholder farmers and the percentage of women working in the farming industry is the highest in the world.
As well as carrying out domestic tasks such as making food for their families, women are heavily involved in agricultural work that includes collecting water for crops, sowing, weeding and harvesting.
Access to clean and affordable energy in off-grid, rural areas can help lessen the burden placed on women, have a range of positive impacts on their lives and livelihoods, as well as for the environment.
This will become ever more important in the years ahead, as climate change threatens food production and the incomes of people in rural villages. Renewable energy will be vital for helping communities adapt to the challenges they face.
It can be used to power innovative technologies, such as solar powered irrigation systems, that not only break the cycle of time consuming, and physically demanding, water collection but replace expensive, fossil fuel powered, water pumps.
Affordable and reliable, clean energy also helps women, who carry out the vast majority of household chores, with the electricity to run time saving domestic appliances as well as opening up opportunities to develop new skills and job prospects.
And access to these new technologies can support and increase the profitability of women-owned agricultural businesses as they are then able to spend more time farming the land thus increasing productivity.
Power Up coalition member Simusolar supply farmers and off-grid businesses with appliances such as solar water pumps and solar fishing lights via lease-to-own financing plans. With a predominantly male customer base the company’s vision is to offer products and finance models tailored to women’s needs.
To do so, the company explored ways of gaining a deeper understanding of female farmers and entrepreneurs. In order to realise the agricultural potential of renewable energy for women they teamed up with US development agency Power Africa, undertaking research in Tanzania and Uganda to design initiatives that promote gender equality.
This involved a mix of interviews and focus group discussions with female entrepreneurs, farmers, and representatives of agricultural cooperatives and savings groups. The study also undertook interviews with Simusolar personnel and several partners, including seed suppliers, crop aggregators, and capacity-builders working with smallholder farmers and fishers to improve their productivity and income.
They have used the valuable feedback to develop gender-inclusive strategies with the aim of showing other off-grid energy companies that new products and services, that prioritise the needs of female consumers, can open up untapped markets, increase financial performance and attract fresh investment and funding streams.
As a result of the research, Simusolar aims to implement diversity and inclusion policies, customise the company’s marketing and sales strategies to appeal to a wider female customer base, pilot new approaches to consumer financing and analyse female-dominated agricultural activities to identify new opportunities. New partnerships with organisations that work with female famers are also being explored.
Michael Kuntz, co-CEO and co-founder, Simusolar, said: “A gender-inclusive business model can expand, as well as impact, the market. It’s good commercially and socially. Moreover, the act of developing the strategy and capabilities to realise it forces the organisation to grow operationally, mature in market segmentation, and deepen client relationships in terms of team empathy. These benefits result in additional impact. It’s a multiplier effect.”