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Somali herders hooked up to solar power by payment of a goat

(ERGO) – Mohamed Adan Qooray’s shop in the small southern Somali village of Banaanay, just two kilometres north of Jowhar town, does a brisk business charging people’s mobile phones.

Herders and farmers from the area come to use the charging points that run off Mohamed’s solar panel installation.

“I make 100-200,000 Somali shillings, which is equivalent to $4-$8 a day. If there is any technical problem, I just call the vendor,” said Mohamed, who purchased his solar kit from a local company, Power OffGrid, in exchange for a goat.

It was back in 2017, when he had brought one of his goats to the market hoping to make a cash sale, but did not get any good offers. He heard that Power OffGrid, a new company based in Jowhar, had a deal involving the exchange of livestock for solar, and he went to visit their office in town.

“They told me they would give me solar, and as I could not buy it because it was expensive for me at $220, I accepted the idea of exchanging one of my animals,” he said.

Mohamed uses the solar electricity to light up his house and to protect his animals from predators, as well as to run his business.

So far 300 farmers and 150 livestock keepers living in villages around Adaale, Eel Ma’an, Jowhar and Buleburte in Middle Shabelle region have installed solar in their homes and business, according to Guled Mohamud Ahmed, the founder and chief executive of Power OffGrid.

Guled’s aim is to provide cheap, renewable electricity to cater for ordinary people’s daily needs, and to empower them to improve their lives at the same time.

“Livestock owners need light and they need to charge their phones, so we allow them to exchange their livestock for the solar kits,” Guled told Radio Ergo.

“The farmers also need water pumps, so we give them solar water pumps in exchange for a share of their farm produce.”

The arrangement is an innovative way of offering credit to farmers and herders who cannot always access cash. The value of a goat depends on the season and the market, of course, so the scheme has to be flexible.

If a farmer dies before full repayment has been made, the debt is forgiven. This has earned the company a reputation for trustworthiness.

Power OffGrid provides 50 to 100 watt panels for use in business and at home for lighting, refrigerating, and charging radios, phones and other devices.

Guled estimates that livestock keepers spend eight to 15 dollars for six hours of lighting and electricity using paraffin lamps and batteries. The solar panels are mobile, so the herders can move around with them, ensuring constant access to clean power.

For local farmers like Abdirahman Ali Abukar in Jowhar town, the solar pump worth $1,000 that he bought on credit in 2017, with a down-payment of just $20, has proved its worth enabling him to access water from the well to grow better crops and vegetables.

He has been paying the debt in instalments with every harvest and has only $200 left to pay.

“I couldn’t grow anything because of lack of water until the solar water pump was installed for me,” Abdirahman said.

“One of my relatives acted as my guarantor. Today, I could become a guarantor for someone else. I have bought a plot from the proceeds of the farm and am planning to build a house on it.”

“No one talks to the people about how to make economic gains and to progress in their lives,” Guled said.

Radio Ergo