woensdag 9 september 2009

Solar Chargers for Farming Cooperatives in Ghana

Davy, from SEND foundation, would pick me up on Saturday morning 1st August at 06.00 and he was there on the dot. In clean white he thought that we would only go to Salaga to visit the field office. You could see the flooding along the road. In Salaga we picked up Wumpini, the senior officer of SEND at Salaga, to visit three farmer communities who tested a solar charger for mobile phones in the ECAMIC project. In February A-Solar, a Dutch company, donated 5 solar chargers to test in Ghana in 5 farmer groups.

ECAMIC is a project where farmers have access to market information through a mixture of channels: notice boards, field staff and mobile phone. All these communities have no access to electricity, although in one community the electricity cable was passing the village! The first community was a very big community with 700 families. 25 of them participated in the SEND farm cooperative. The ECAMIC project provided them with 2 subsidized phones, but now already 20 of them have phones. Mobile phones are booming in the Kalende community, but there is no electricity. No one else has solar power and there are no phone shops where they can buy credits. They are 6 km from Salaga, where everything is available, but that consumes a lot of time and commercial charging is expensive. The solar charger was a huge success. But it was not enough to even charge the phones in the group. With sunny weather the charger could charge 3 phones a day, with clouds only 2.

They would like to charge 30 a day. Now they have seen the advantages of phones all of them would like to have one. They not only use it for accessing market information, but all their crops (yams, maize, ground nuts, vegetables, etc) are in the system. If market traders visit the village they have a better negotiating position. They also have contact with market traders in Accra and Kumasi by phone.

The phone is also used to contact people in Salaga to bring goods if they will come to the village or to contact relatives in case of a funeral. The other two communities were smaller. Sogon 1 and Bondando had groups of 20 farm families. In both groups there were 8 phones. They both would like to be able to charge 6 phones a day and more phones for the group for a subsidized rate. All three groups would like to set up a small shop to charge mobiles. They would also charge other phones in the community for a small fee for the benefit of the cooperative, though the small chargers more are meant for personal use than for commercial use. But all have seen the benefits of the mobile phone and the impact it can make on their lives.

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