Improving productivity with solar agricultural mills in Vanuatu

Improving productivity with solar agricultural mills in Vanuatu

Round 2 Vanuatu Resources and Clean Energy Active

59%

41%

Partner contribution

$ 710,000

DFAT contribution

$ 500,000

Icon Total Funds

Total Value

$ 1,210,000


Start: November 2017 - End: June 2019

Partners

Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA)

VIA is a consulting and project management company that primarily works in the renewable energy space with expertise in mapping, rural electrification, engineering, software development and installation of renewable energy equipment, amongst others. VIA is currently managing projects in Vanuatu, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Honduras.

About this partnership

This partnership aims to provide access to solar energy solutions for 3,000 poor and remote off-grid households in 60 villages in Vanuatu, enabling them to shift from uneconomical and unsustainable fuels (kerosene, diesel and wood) to modern, efficient, renewable local energy sources. In doing so, it aims to contribute to women’s empowerment through reduced work care burden and increased household income.

Households in Vanuatu are scattered across various islands and many villages lack access to electricity, relying on expensive fossil fuels to support basic household needs. Rural villagers, particularly women, spend significant time hand-processing staple food crops which is both labour-intensive and time-consuming.

Village Infrastructure Angels delivers solar-powered mills and innovative pay-as-you-go home power stations to rural villages across Vanuatu. Solar-powered mills reduce the time needed to process food and eliminate the need to travel long distances to access agro-processing facilities, saving time for other activities. Domestic solar power products reduce reliance on costly fuels and can be used for lighting, charging phones and other low-power consumer appliances. These assets are leased to villagers for one to five years with ownership transferring at the end of the lease period. DFAT provides critical co-investment, advocacy support and access to local networks and technical assistance.

This partnership creates shared value by reconceiving products and markets through providing solar electricity services for 3,000 households in 60 villages in Vanuatu. In addition to the cost and environmental benefits for consumers, VIA expands its electricity supply business in Vanuatu, building market share and earning income from electricity user fees. The initiative also supports the creation of 100 micro-entrepreneurs to operate the solar mills.

Gender

This initiative promotes women’s economic empowerment through the operation of solar agro-processing facilities, reducing women’s manual labour and time burden and enhancing women’s productivity and income.

Manual agro-processing is mostly done by women and is a very labour and time-intensive activity. Solar-powered mills relieve women from manual work, saving time that can be used in income-generating activities, family care, socialising, or other activities of their choice. Women will operate at least 50 per cent of the solar agro-processing power stations, enhancing their status in the village and gaining improved access to productive infrastructure. Solar-powered mills also reduce some of the physical burden for women, as well as the fire hazards and some pollution inside households.

Progress Update

December 2018

Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA) proposed an expansion to the Vanuatu portion of its solar lamp and mill delivery through the Indo-Pacific, and a variation was made to the scope of this partnership to increase the number of lamps and mills distributed and to extend the delivery timeframe by three to four months. Leasing, village agent sales training and surveys took place and a change was made to the deposit policy (from zero to 50 per cent) to help prevent defaults. The initiative expanded its scope and duration to now reach 5,500 households, an increase of 2,500. The partnership has been extended to November 2019.

Key activities:

  • To date, 34 mills have been shipped and 10 installed. Another 46 solar mills will be ordered to reach the target of 80. However, the demand of mills is so high that VIA has increased its order to 100. These are expected to be installed by the end of 2019.
  • Up to 3,000 solar lights have been installed. An extra 2,500 are expected to be shipped and installed by June 2019.
  • A manual for village agents was created to assist users with common questions and issues. Formal lease agreements were established and well received.
  • Plans are in place to include more women as village agents, which is likely to attract more female customers.
  • Improved processing of a new range of products by mill users (for example, using the grater and flour mill for value add products such as local tea, lemongrass and dried pumpkin powder) and hand-ground cassava (for example, one mill is used by 100 women and has led to increased sales).
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