Hailey Tucker

A Loan and a Light: One Acre Fund, in partnership with GreenLight Planet, aiming for 100K solar lamps in Kenya this year

Walking the muddy path between Alice Wafula’s and Maximila Khaemba’s homes at night, it’s clear that something is different. Instead of smoke, the air smells of the fresh rain and the two houses glow brightly. The signature darkness of rural East African villages at night is chased away by the glow coming from inside the dirt-walled homes.

Alice and Maximila are both smallholder farmers from Khachonge, Kenya. They are also both enrolled with One Acre Fund, an agriculture NGO where I work. One Acre Fund provides 280,000 smallholder farmers in East Africa with the tools and training they need to grow their way out of hunger and poverty.

The improved seed, fertilizer and agriculture trainings Alice and Maximila receive on credit from One Acre Fund have helped their families achieve food security, and allowed them to generate a small surplus to invest in things like education and livestock. On average, farmers who enroll with One Acre Fund experience a 50 percent increase in income on every planted acre. But tonight, these women are eager to tell us how access to a 1.5-pound piece of plastic has changed their lives forever.

“Solar lamps don’t require kerosene. All they need is the sun’s energy. I forgot about kerosene a long time ago. I don’t even remember the last time I bought it,” Alice says.

“As a family, our solar lamp is a huge help,” Maximila adds. “The children read with the light, and we use it for cooking. The most important bit is the safety. With the kerosene lamp, the children would get burned all the time.”

Today, in countries like Kenya, 70 percent of the population lives without electricity. To light their homes, farmers rely mostly on kerosene, which is costly and damaging to their health. Compared with wood, kerosene emits a higher percentage of black carbon when burned, which is damaging to the environment as well.

In 2011, One Acre Fund began offering cost-saving solar lamps made by Greenlight Planet as an optional add-on to our loan package. In 2014, One Acre Fund delivered 72,900 lamps to farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. By the end of 2015, we expect to have delivered over 100,000 more. One Acre Fund delivers solar lamps- along with seed, fertilizer and other agriculture products that farmers purchase on credit- to hundreds of rural market points that are within walking distance of farmers’ homes. Watch this video to learn more about One Acre Fund’s core model, including our approach to delivering goods to remote areas of East Africa.

Alice, One Acre Fund client for several years now, has acquired four solar lights.

“I have so many rooms, and so I wanted to have many lamps – one for each room,” Alice says. “You see, I do not struggle now. When I’m in the kitchen and I’m cooking, I have my own lamp there, and the kids can still read with the other solar lamp. Even when I have visitors, they also have their own light in the living room.”

In Khachonge, the impact of One Acre Fund’s solar lamp program is visible. We accompanied Alice on a tour of the village after sunset to get a better sense of how farmers put their lamps to use.

Our first stop is to see 31-year-old Eunice Wegulo. Eunice works part-time as a police officer but still farms on the side to provide for her family of five. She began farming with One Acre Fund in 2014. Although she is able to afford amenities many smallholder farmers in Kenya can’t, like a gas-burning stove, she still cannot afford electricity for her home.

When we first meet Eunice, she is cooking fish stew under her hanging solar lamp. Her children, Cynthia, Faith and Thomas, scurry around the one-room house as two of their aunts look on.

“Buying kerosene was rather expensive,” Eunice explains. “I would buy a five-liter bottle of kerosene and that would last me for only a month. It was costing me a lot of money. With this solar lamp, I can charge it for free and then use it for three days straight.”

Above: Everline Wafula’s three children study with a solar lamp.

Next we visit Everline Wafula, a widowed mother of six who lives close by. Entering Everline’s house, we find three of her daughters sitting hunched in concentration as they work on their arithmetic and English.

“This lamp is great,” Lensa, Everline’s eldest, says. “The other lamps had so much smoke, and it would bother my eyes while I studied. This one also creates a lot more light.”

Throughout their study session, Everline’s other children wander in, plopping down wherever they find space available. Everline says the solar lamp is bright enough for all six children to share, which was not possible with a kerosene lantern.

Circling back the way we came, we find Maximila waiting to greet us. Her house glows even brighter than the rest.

Maximila’s family uses the light in their house for the same activities as Eunice, Alice and Everline; but once they her family is ready for bed, Maximila takes her light outside and hangs it in her entryway, angling it out into the darkness.

“I just put it out here,” she says, gesturing to the solar light hanging in her house’s entryway, “and it lights my compound. It helps protect against night runners (pranksters) and thieves. Sometimes I also use the light to do my chores outside at night, like washing clothes.”

Since buying the light, she says they haven’t had any issues with unwanted visitors at night. It’s just one more of the ways that Maximila has helped to create a better life for her family through solar lamp technology.

Hailey Tucker leads field communications at One Acre Fund, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides farmers with the financing and training they need to grow their way out of hunger and poverty. She is based in Bungoma, Kenya.

Agriculture, Energy
smallholder farmers, solar