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Solarising Senegalese banana value-chains to achieve social, economic and environmental impact

1/06/2021

Over 1,000 small-scale banana farmers and processors in southern Senegal are set to increase their yields and profits and reduce their production costs and wastage as the result of a new collaboration between Energy 4 Impact and GIZ’s Green People’s Energy initiative. Started in March 2021, this one-year project which will promote the adoption of solar-powered irrigation, processing and preservation technologies amongst off-grid farming communities in the valley of the river Gambia. It will also build the capacity of smallholder farmers to use such equipment profitably, so boosting local economies and generating new employment opportunities.

To achieve this objective, Energy 4 Impact is teaming up with APROVAG, an umbrella organisation that brings together hundreds of farmers across the region involved in the production, processing and marketing of fruit and vegetables, in particular organic bananas. With an average production capacity of 2,500 tonnes of organic bananas per year, mainly sold in Senegal and the Gambia, the organisation has obtained the Organic, GlobalGAP and Fairtrade certifications and now harbours the ambition of exporting to Europe.

 

APROVAG is engaged in a range of social and economic activities with the overall aim of empowering farmers (including women farmers), promoting rural entrepreneurship, and increasing food security across the region. Such activities are set to strengthen the organisational, institutional, and technical capacities of food producers and community-based organisations, diversify their income-generating activities, increase access to financing, inputs and equipment, such as seeds banks, processing and composting units and conditioning stations.

The collaboration with APROVAG dates back to 2017 when Energy 4 Impact first provided a handful of enterprises in the banana value-chain with guidance on energy efficiency, farm management and capacity-building. Helping such enterprises become more profitable and sustainable over the subsequent two years enabled APROVAG to better understand the challenges faced by the farming sector, but the organisation remains hamstrung by insufficient resources.

Although one of the main banana-producing associations in Tambacounda, accounting for more than 10% of annual production in the region, APROVAG can only achieve a fraction of its potential due to the farmers reliance on costly and dirty fuels and inefficient equipment for irrigation, processing, conditioning and packaging.

Diesel-powered irrigation systems not only pollute the air and water streams, but they are also expensive to run, consuming an average of 54,000 litres of diesel per year. Given that fuel accounts for 50% of their total operational costs, the farmers often run out of budget before the end of the growing season. Unable to adequately irrigate their crops, farmers suffer a drop in production output and income.

Our biggest challenge is finding an alternative to diesel that better complies with our environmental values ​​and mission which is also cost-effective enough to ensure profitability and sustainability for our groups and micro-enterprises,

say Papa Diallo, Executive Secretary from APROVAG.

While solar-powered alternatives are available, the upfront investment costs remain high and therefore the equipment remains largely inaccessible for smallholder farmers.

To support female entrepreneurship and meet the local demand for products processed from bananas, APROVAG has also installed three transformation units in selected villages run by women’s groups. However, using such equipment has not been smooth sailing. Although some parts of the units are powered by solar PV systems, their lack of maintenance and wrong sizing has reduced production to one tonne per quarter despite a potential capacity of around four tonnes per quarter. This represents a considerable shortfall for women struggling to guarantee a steady supply of bananas for producers of couscous, crisps, flour, soap and thiakri (a popular dessert).

In order to improve the quality of the product and attract high-end traders, whilst also minimising the spoilage and loss, APROVAG has set up packaging and conditioning units. But again, limited capacity and lack of cold rooms mean that only 10% of the bananas end up being stored and packaged in optimal conditions.

 

Better quality equipment and sizing, combined with a market development strategy, could enable these microenterprises to play an enhanced role in the banana value-chain whilst also creating more jobs, particularly for women. It is estimated that access to renewable energy and solar-powered equipment would enable the APROVAG farmers to reduce production costs by 20% and waste by 50%, whilst increasing yields by 25% and profits by 30% across the value chain.

Working with APROVAG, Energy 4 Impact is helping businesses source high-quality, properly sized solar-powered irrigation, refrigeration, conditioning and packaging equipment and achieve tangible results in terms of productivity, profitability, products quality and income.

To overcome the hurdle of the high upfront cost of the equipment and increase the sustainability of the investment, GIZ has established a grant that will fund 100% of the cost of the equipment. Through a repayment plan APROVAG will recover 50% of the cost of the assets from its members. The recovered capital will be used by APROVAG to finance further asset investments for more farmers.

Energy 4 Impact’s Project Manager Bayo Thiam says: 

We’re galvanised by this collaboration and the opportunity it gives us to create positive social environmental and economic impact in this high-potential agricultural area. In line with our market-oriented approach, we will work with APROVAG to strengthen their business model and the financial viability of their various commercial operations. This will involve building the farmers’ skills and capacity in terms of accounting, marketing, access to market and networking opportunities.

Beyond improving the living standards of its own members, APROVAG aspires to strengthen its social anchoring by electrifying social infrastructure such as schools and clinics across the region. Electrification will enable better lighting, digital teaching resources and access to computers, internet access and audio-visual learning aids in schools, as well as the provision of higher quality care through the use of medical equipment, cold storage for medicines and vaccines, and adequate illumination of treatment room in clinics.