Zambia Assessment Trip Summary
The latest KWH trip to Zambia offered a unique chance to review the current status of the projects and reassess the best way forward. This opportunity is rare in off-grid development projects where the norm is to install and leave -- this is also one of my favorite aspects of KWH, the continued follow up with a project. As such, the trip focused on assessment of current sustainability, business expansion modeling, technical system upgrades, and impact surveying. The team consisted of a mix of 6 engineering students from Seattle University, 2 Professors, and 3 KWH professional volunteers who worked closely with local partners Green Trust (in Chalokwa) and Harvest Help (in Munyama). Overall the trip was successful in meeting the project objectives, but was also a wonderful cultural experience to learn more about how people live in remote villages in Zambia.
Sustainability of the projects was assessed with a scoring matrix that covered economic, technical, social, organizational, and environmental health. We found all technical systems to be fully functional, positive and substantial revenues being generated at each location, and were impressed with the capabilities of the local operators to manage the kiosks. For example, in Chalokwa, the operator had arranged for and sponsored a local soccer tournament which brought in many teams and led to both a tangible social benefit and good revenues to sustain the business. Investments in new, profitable lines of business are now needed in order to increase net income and set the projects up financially for handling possible breakdowns of major equipment (i.e. station battery bank).
The technical team spent two days at each location inspecting components and assessing the health of the technical system. Battery testing involved putting a large load (hair dryers) on the system to discharge the system, from full charge, as quickly as possible and then determine the energy levels currently available to the system. Since battery capacity decreases over time, lower than expected capacity would indicate faster aging than planned for. Luckily batteries at both locations were in line with expectations and shouldn't fail anytime soon. In Munyama, where cell phone signal is weak, a new antenna was installed so that system operation metrics (volts, amps, etc...) are more regular. KWH uses this to keep an eye on the technical system and support partners if there are any problems (see the KWH dashboard here: http://kw4h.org/). A pyranometer was also installed at each location -- this device measures the available sunlight and is useful for determining that maximum available solar power at any given moment.
A household survey was also conducted in order to capture household demographics, kiosk usages, product usage levels, and perceived impact of the kiosk. It was a group effort and 54 surveys were captured in total: 30 in Chalokwa, and 24 in Munyama. To add to the evidence, focus groups were held with various sub-groups of community such as women, fishermen, farmers, men, business people, local leadership, etc. Over 30 residents of each community filled out surveys, and a similar number of community members participated in focus groups. The assessment team also spent several hours over two days interviewing representatives from our non-profit partners Green Trust (Chalokwa) and Harvest Help (Munyama). In general, the overall perception of the kiosk in each community is positive. Community members feel that the kiosks are community assets that have had net positive benefits on the local economy, social welfare, environment and security. Survey participants living close to the kiosks were more likely than those living more than 1km away to have highly positive views of the kiosk operations, but overall views were generally positive among those living near or far from the kiosk. Frequently-cited benefits included cell phone charging, sale of cellular talk time, and sale of cold drinks.
However, in both communities, participants of surveys and focus groups said that the kiosks had not yet met the outstanding energy needs for the communities, particularly with respect to light and the sale of solar home kits, which were often not available in the kiosks. Particularly in Munyama, focus group participants felt that there were opportunities for expanding the range of goods for sale at the kiosk. People in both communities wanted access to mealie-meal, fishing supplies, ice, and a wider range of grocery items. In both communities, people are interested in continuing to partner with KWH on energy-related development projects, and there are a number of business opportunities for the kiosks that are worth exploring. There seems to be an untapped demand for affordable solar home systems and small LED-based lighting systems at each location and other business expansion opportunities such as installing a barber shop and powering sewing machines. The travel team has suggested local partners now drive the expansion with the support of KWH wherever needed.