Disconnected from the grid, and challenged with long distances to towns and neighbouring villages, people living in Aman Bader, Niger, and other villages engaging in community-based adaptation with CARE’s Adaptation Learning Program (ALP), now have a reliable source of power for their mobile phones – the sun.
“In 2012, we were given a solar kit – a set of equipment to charge mobile devices with solar power. The women at the general assembly chose me to be in charge of it, because they trusted me with managing the revenues this would generate.”Zennou Boukari from Aman Bader
Mobile phone communication is relatively recent in Niger. It started in 2002 and, initially, only involved affluent residents of Niamey and Maradi. It has spread like wildfire since and is available everywhere in Niger. Where ALP works, the majority of men have “cellules,” and between 20 to 50% of women, depending on thelocation. This is evolving fast and represents a real social revolution, especially for people in cut-off, remote areas.
But charging the phones, especially for women, has been difficult and costly. To charge their phones, people usually purchase charging from a power stall at the local market or town some distance away, or from a passing motor bike willing to share from their battery. Small solar panels are easy and relatively inexpensive to install everywhere.
Each time a phone is charged with Zennou Boukari’s solar power kit, which happens all the time according to Zennou. Sunshine, of course, is available in abundance in the Sahel, so the solar kit generates a reliable and continuous income for the women’s fund. But the group decided to take it even further and manage their income in smart ways, as a source of credit and investment.
“We use the money to give the women of the village access to credit, normally between 10,000 and 20,000 Francs CFA (approximately USD 16-33) at a time, which is usually paid back within a month or two at an interest rate of 10%. The loans are used for ceremonies usually, or to buy livestock, but they also help families buy food during the lean season,” said Zennou
The profit made by charging interest on the loans does not belong to Zennou – it is collective property and it gets reinvested in a community inventory credit system. “This system generates resources for dealing with crisis. It makes us more resilient,” Zennou explains. Without the chance to borrow and invest, people often have no choice other than to consume wild foods, ration their food intake, or leave the area when a crisis strikes.
But income, savings and credit are not the only way the solar kits help the people of Aman Bader and the other villages ALP works with become more resilient. They also play a crucial role in the villages’ community early warning and response mechanisms. Not only can people keep in touch with their relatives and friends more easily, but they also share the weather information they generate and receive a lot more quickly. When it rains, first thing in the morning, local volunteers use a dedicated mobile phone to pass on a rain gauge reading to the district authorities. Hours later, they hear their village’s name and corresponding amount of rainfall on the national radio. This news is followed even by relatives who have migrated to neighboring countries in search of seasonal labour. When they hear how much rain has fallen in their home, they know exactly when it is a good time to return to work in the fields.