In Benin, as in many other parts of Africa, solar energy has an enormous, yet largely untapped, potential to increase food security in regions that experience a long dry season. Solar power provides a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to pump water for irrigation from nearby rivers and underground aquifers.
During the dry season in the district of Kalalé, located in the northern part of Benin, there is precious little rainfall and the land of is parched. Little can be grown, and often its people go hungry. Malnutrition becomes widespread, and can be seen in the many children walking around with distended bellies, a sign of kwashiorkor, a condition caused largely by a lack of protein and micronutrients in a person’s diet.
SELF’s work in Benin began in 2006 when it put together a plan to use solar power in the district of Kalalé for a variety of uses in schools and health clinics, and for water pumping systems, street lighting, and providing wireless internet access to the community.
A needs assessment revealed that the primary concern among the local communities was food security, and finding a way to overcome the endemic lack of water that can grow food, a large contributor to the cycle of poverty and poor health in the district.
To solve that problem, SELF developed an innovative way to use solar energy to power a well pump to draw water from an underground acquirer and gravity feed it through a drip irrigation system into gardens. The system became known as a Solar Market Garden™ (SMG).
In 2007, SELF installed three SMGs for women farming collectives in the villages of Dunkassa and Bessassi located in Kalalé. Residents saw the transformative power that this simple and effective technology had on their lives. A significant increase in food security in the villages was seen; each garden supplied nearly two tons of high-value fruits and vegetables per month. And because the communities had access to year-round food, their nutrition improved and the income of the women farmers also increased by an extra $7.50 per week from the sale of fresh produce at a local market. The extra income has gone towards helping to pay for school fees, medical treatment, and new small business development.
In addition to the SMGs, SELF also installed three solar-powered community water wells to help provide the families in Dunkassa and Bessassi with safe, clean drinking water year-round.
SELF extended its commitment to the people of Kalalé in 2012 and 2013 by installing four new SMGs, solar systems at three schools and a health center in each village of Dunkassa and Bessassi to help power lights in classrooms, examination rooms, computers, vaccine refrigerators and diagnostic equipment.
The local community also collaborated with SELF to develop and build a solar powered micro-enterprise center. Three buildings, constructed in the shape of a horseshoe, will house ten shops, forming a center of economic activity in the villages. The center courtyard, shaded by a solar array that powers the buildings, will create an inviting space for additional, smaller vendors.
SELF’s Whole Village Development Model was achieved with the recent installation of four additional SMGs and 34 solar powered street lights in Bessassi and Dunkassa. The lighting has increased activity in the villages, and perhaps more importantly, it has improved public safety, particularly for women in the community, by illuminating areas that once were completely dark.
SELF believes that as in Benin, its Whole Village Development Model can be replicated around the world to scale-up the use of solar energy to help communities lift themselves out of poverty and secure their future.
To learn more, please see:
“Earth from Above” (Vu du Ciel) on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/25838250
“Solar-powered drip irrigation enhances food security in the Sudano–Sahel,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2, 2010: http://www.self.org/PNAS_Article_Solar_Market_Garden.pdf
“Solar-powered irrigation systems improve diet and income in rural sub-Saharan Africa, Stanford study finds,” Stanford Report, January 6, 2010: