Agriculture Meets Clean Energy Entrepreneurship in Uganda

January 21, 2021

This month brings us another dose of goodness from our Uganda program, ENVenture. As many continue to grapple with the devastating impact COVID-19 is leaving in its wake, the enterprises and startups in our programs are hard at work proving that resilience is alive and well. One of such enterprises is the Youth Effort for Sustainable Rural Development (YESRUD), an awardee of ENVenture, the New Energy Nexus Uganda program. YESRUD aims to turn a profit while achieving the needed social impact for rural communities that are faced not only with limited energy access but are on the frontlines of climate change.

YESRUD is a youth-led farming and energy Community Based Organization (CBO) intent on creating income generating opportunities for its residents in the Eastern district of Kumi, Uganda. Their outreach is in the form of farmer groups, a type of nonprofit group formed by local small-holder farmers with a co-operative oriented goal of accessing extension services. Specifically, these services include better access to market, credit and farming technologies. These are the key for food provision and income generation for farmers whose sector alone accounted for  22% of Uganda’s GDP in 2019. And now, in the aftermath of a recent locust invasion that has destroyed food sources for over 290,000 people, farmer groups have become an even more critical avenue for food security, a known threat of our time. Today, they are part of the 21,000 diverse nonprofit self-managed cooperative groups across the country that work to empower community members both economically and socially. They can also be seen in countries like Tanzania and Ghana.

Local CBOs, like YESRUD in Uganda, help in forming even more farmer groups, encouraging farmers to join so they can have the benefit of the much needed extension services. Launched in 2017 with a small team of seven and limited finance, YESRUD organized 350 farmers (!!) into farmer groups within the year. Their farmer groups consist of 10 to 30 farmers who produce and market collectively in an effort to profit. To date, the number of farmer beneficiaries has increased from 350 in 2017 to 900 in 2019, and 1,300 in 2020.

A Clean Energy Spin-off

Like many social entrepreneurs in Uganda, YESRUD has expanded its service offerings into renewable energy. Over 70% of the country’s population currently does not have access to energy. Energy demand is primarily met by biomass from trees. The required energy technologies exist but access is hampered by limited transmission infrastructure for grid power and a gap in the distribution of small-scale decentralized clean energy products, like solar lanterns and improved cookstoves. An immediate and long-term solution to this has been proven by clean energy entrepreneurship. And so, riding this wave, YESRUD began running a clean energy business managed by seven young people who do product outreach to local communities. The clean energy business was created in 2019 through ENVenture, which supports CBOs in launching clean energy enterprises through financing, capacity building and mobile technology.

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Fig. 1  Ignatuius Okore in YESRUD’s kiosk

Since 2016, 116 other CBOs have benefited from the program to become distributors of clean energy in the last mile. YESRUD’s founder, Ignatius Okore, participated in one of our bootcamps on how to run a successful clean energy business. He launched their kiosk (Fig. 1), stocking it with 190 units of cookstoves and solar lanterns. The products can now be accessed by his Kumi district customers from any one of the commission-based sales agents that sell door to door.

In addition to retailing products, their team educates farmers in Kumi District about the impact of climate change on agriculture and how the use of renewable energy solutions like improved cookstoves and solar lamps, can help fight it and its devastating effects. One of their farmer group beneficiaries is Ms. Aguti Kevin (Fig. 2), chairperson of Go Forward Women farmer’s group from Orapada village in Kumi District, says her improved cookstove has helped save time and health through simplified cooking. She now encourages her group members to save money and buy energy-saving stoves. simplified cooking. One of the members in her group, Ms. Malinga Hellen (Fig. 3), has done just that. She attests to the great performance of her own Cookstove which she lights up with maize cobs, a by-product of the maize crop that she sells for income. She then uses the resulting ash from the burnt cobs to make soda ash (sodium carbonate) locally known as “magadi” or”abalang” in the local language, Ateso. She adds to her income by selling this sodium carbonate solution to the locals for cooking.

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Fig. 2  Ms. Aguti Kevin with Ignatius

 

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Fig. 3  Ms. Malinga Hellen with her son.

Agriculture meets cleantech

YESRUD’s farmer group extension services have enabled a steady increment in income and savings for 1,300 farming households. Ignatius attributes this bump to their program work in Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), which are local self-managed groups of people that help residents manage their money more efficiently to stay out of debt. For YESRUD, a typical VSLA consists of 30 members who reside within the same locality. Members join voluntarily with a small criterion of paying a one-time subscription fee of UGX 6,000 (USD 2) for a savings passbook and free training in financial literacy. With tens of thousands of VSLA groups across Uganda, their purpose has now gone beyond financial inclusion. YESRUD is leveraging this tight-knit structure to empower members to save more, run profitable farming businesses and transition to cleantech. Today, YESRUD has helped create 40 VSLA groups in the Kumi district.

“There is 35% improved access to quality seeds through the local seed business groups established at the village level by the VSLAs. There is improved access to Agri-business financing and market from all youth, female and male,” explains Ignatius. “There is improved gender equality especially in household planning and resource allocation due the mentorship provided using the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) methodology.” 

For more information and a look at YESRUD’s work, check out their website https://yesrud.org/