Towards Improving the Livelihood of Smallholder Farmers in East Africa

By Obwin Owen Benjamin, Communication Consultant, and Ruth Soi Ashoka East Africa Project manager….

Can you imagine a world where smallholder farmers, with the right support and innovation, lead the way in sustainable agriculture through renewable energy solutions, ultimately mitigating the effects of climate change in East Africa?

Ashoka East Africa is implementing a project Towards improving the livelihood of small holder farmers; “Scaling Africa’s Distributed Renewable Energy Ecosystem Model (DREEM 3.0) through Social Entrepreneurship.” This project aims to support the adoption of solar photovoltaic (PV) solutions within key agricultural value chains, primarily to improve productivity and foster sustainable agricultural practices among smallholders in East Africa.

The first phase of the project “Towards Improved Livelihoods for Small-Holder Farmers in East Africa,” aimed to identify and map innovators in the agricultural and distributed renewable energy sectors across East Africa. What they found was inspiring, there are incredible changemakers making significant strides in providing climate solutions through the use of distributed renewable energy solutions in agriculture. Here are the key findings.

A Glimpse into Innovation

This study aimed to profile innovators who are advancing distributed renewable energy (DRE) solutions within agriculture. According to the report, 96.3% of the innovators predominantly benefit agriculture through their use of renewable energy solutions. With these innovation-driven renewable energy solutions, East Africa’s smallholders are poised to engage in sustainable farming practices, helping to mitigate food insecurity caused by climate change. The report sampled 140 innovators running organizations in agriculture, renewable energy, or both, demonstrating their commitment to providing DRE solutions such as biogas, solar, and cookstoves to meet agricultural demands within their communities. Here are some key insights from the report:

  1. Innovative solutions : Creative innovation-based solutions, such as making cookstoves from crop residues and farm waste, were shared in the report. This demonstrates the inventive approaches innovators are taking to implement distributed renewable energy services within agriculture, positively impacting smallholder farmers and mitigating climate change in their communities. These cookstoves are significantly contributing to creating an agricultural ecosystem that has been missing in the region. With East Africa facing unprecedented effects of global warming, introducing such an ecosystem will enhance sustainable agricultural practices and provide communities with clean energy. Additionally, innovators are designing solar-powered technology to support irrigation, drying, and cooling of agricultural produce, which enhances productivity and sustainability.
  2. Youth-driven Innovation: The survey found majority of the participants in the survey to be in a younger age bracket with a majority falling within the lower middle age bracket; that is, between the ages of 35 and 44. This shows how East Africa’s young populations are creating self-employment in agricultural and distributed renewable energy sectors, instead of relying on government-driven solutions.
  1. Gender Gap: The report further established a gender gap in the sectors, with male innovators significantly outnumbering their female counterparts. This gap calls for action from relevant stakeholders to empower women to achieve gender equality in these sectors.

Challenges Innovators Face:

Even as innovators in agricultural and renewable energy sectors are determined to scale up their innovations they do not have support from government and other stakeholders. These innovations are social-impact-driven, and extending support to them shall create an environment that would allow them to thrive.

“Collaboration among the key stakeholders in renewable energy and agriculture should be accelerated for these sectors to deliver more benefits to society,” Ruth Soi, project manager from Ashoka said.

These innovators deserve support from the government and other stakeholders to assist their efforts to integrate innovations in agriculture and renewable energy to facilitate sustainable farming in the region.

“The study makes a case for collaboration among key stakeholders in renewable energy and agriculture sectors to support them,” Vincent Otieno Odhiambo, Ashoka EA Regional Director reiterated.

Furthermore, another notable highlight of the innovator mapping initiative is that most innovations are at the start-up stage. Collaborating in these sectors and extending financial resources to them will enhance their innovations and social impact.

Are you ready to support East Africa’s innovators? Click here to download the full report:


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