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In Mali, Rural Electrification Rhymes with Renewable Energy

October 29, 2010

  • Mali’s rural households are shifting away from cooking stoves that rely on charcoal, thanks to funding from the International Development Association and the Global Environment Facility.
  • The funds also help introduce renewable sources of energy in rural and peripheral urban areas.
  • These investments have fostered the emergence of private initiatives that lay the foundation for sustainability.

KOROKORO, Mali, October 29, 2010—In the village of Korokoro, nearly 40 kilometers from Bamako, the capital of Mali, 66 women have given up wood cutting to preserve plant cover and prevent environmental degradation. Instead they have decided to establish shrub nurseries, plant trees, and allow the flora to thrive.

During the rainy season, these women plant shrubs; in the dry season, they grow vegetables and sell them to residents of the capital. A portion of their earnings goes into the coffers of a local association called Jigisèmè, which means “assistance” in the Bamanan language. The association has opened an account at a microfinance institution that caters to the needs of rural entrepreneurs. This allows them to offer small loans to members of the association who wish to operate a small business, such as selling groundnuts or loaf cakes in the town’s market.

This tree nursery enables us to pay for our children’s school supplies and cover expenses related to our families’ health,” explains Fanta Cissé, the nursery's treasurer.

The initiative was launched as part of the Household Energy and Universal Access Project (HEURA), which is financed by the International Development Association (IDA), the branch of the World Bank Group that provides assistance to low-income countries (US$70.65 million). The project has also received US$3.5 million from the Global Environment Facility.

The basic idea is to have all women give up wood cutting and, in so doing, reduce pressure on the trees. That’s how we intend to introduce natural resource management,” explained Sheik Oumar Touré, head of the rural wood markets division at the Malian Agency for the Development of Rural Electrification, the project management unit.

The project seeks first and foremost to promote community-based forest management, with a view to reducing consumption pressure on forest resources, while at the same time encouraging fuel substitution and energy-saving initiatives.

To ensure sustainable exploitation of forests, the project provides support to the production and sale of improved stoves that use less charcoal.

Ousmane Samassékou heads a company that manufactures this type of stove. His company currently produces 6,000 units thanks to that support. This is a significant increase from his initial output level of some 1,500 stoves. The Project has also helped him develop a reliable distribution network for the stoves in partnership with local blacksmiths.

Women who use this appliance are protected from carbon monoxide and volatile particles that emanate from charcoal, which is widely used for cooking across Mali. “Simply put, this stove helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Samassékou says.

Solar-Powered Small Businesses

HEURA also intervenes in the area of electrification. In that regard, the project seeks to accelerate the use of modern energy in rural and peri-urban areas with a view to increasing productivity in small and medium enterprises, so as to improve the quality and effectiveness of health centers and schools, as well as overall the living conditions of the people of Mali.

In Seribala, an agricultural town at the center of the country, grant funding from the project has helped a private operator set up a power plant. With a portfolio of 580 clients and 53 public street lights, the grid provides electricity for 12 hours every day to support commercial activity. “The availability of electricity means that our business can now stay open until late into the night. Before, we had to use a generator and put fuel into it,” says Sacko Maimouna Fofana, a 38 year-old mother who has been running an eatery in the town since 1989.

Kimparana, a town approximately 500 kilometers from Bamako, can take pride in its solar power network. The network boasts 600 solar panels with a capacity of 120 watts; 192 batteries; 232 consumers, including residential homes, service businesses, and farmers. In addition, about 100 hundred clients have signed up on a waiting list. The plant provides 10 hours of electric supply every day. A 175 kW backup plant provides additional support on days when there is no sun. The grid supplies the town’s health and maternity centers.

Sina Bakayogo is a welder who used to travel long distances to be able to get work. He had to go San (50 kilometers) or Koutiala (80 kilometers) because he couldn’t get electricity in Kimparana. For him, there is clearly a “before” and an “after”— he went from being a blacksmith before the advent of electricity in Kimparana to a blacksmith and a welder who now manufactures plowing instruments, chairs, and other complex tools to take care of his family.

Likewise for Néné Keita, who started selling ice last March, when her house was connected to the grid. Before, she says, her refrigerator was nothing more than an ornament. Astan Fofana, a prosperous merchant known here as “Mama,” appreciates the steady electric supply she is getting. Not so much because her shop now stays open until very late, but mostly because she can now sleep with peace of mind. “The light helps us feel safe,” she says.