Reporting ideas on solar energy and agriculture value chains in East Africa

The African Centre for Media Excellence, in partnership with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, is undertaking a two-year project to improve the reporting skills of journalists, media professionals, and agricultural stakeholders in East Africa. The project focuses on sustainable renewable energy solutions for agricultural development and aims to enhance communication channels, foster better engagement with stakeholders, and improve public awareness of these renewable energy technologies.

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East Africa has fertile lands with great potential for agriculture, but it faces serious challenges such as energy poverty, climate change, and significant post-harvest losses. These problems pose a threat to food security and economic well-being in the region.

This issue is particularly severe in sub-Saharan Africa, where 567 million people lack access to electricity and 900 million people lack clean cooking facilities. In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, an estimated 82 million residents did not have reliable electricity by 2018. In East Africa, where 70% of the population relies on agriculture, and smallholder farmers contribute 75% of the produce, the Productive Use of Solar Energy (PUSE) can provide a valuable solution.

The Productive Use of Solar Energy (PUSE) encompasses more than just lighting solutions. Solar-powered water pumps offer water independence from erratic rainfall, while cold storage facilities powered by the sun preserve harvests and empower farmers to negotiate market prices. Diesel-powered mills are giving way to clean-energy alternatives, driving rural entrepreneurship.

Working alongside various groups like government agencies, businesses, international organisations, and investors who are actively developing PUSE in East Africa, journalists have a unique chance to tell compelling stories. These stories can focus on innovation, investment, and finding solutions to overcome challenges. They can highlight successful uses of PUSE, how it helps communities, any roadblocks to wide adoption, and the individuals making a positive impact.

To enhance public understanding and discussion surrounding PUSE, journalists can explore diverse story ideas focused on its applications, challenges and impact. Here are a few suggestions.

Story ideas

PUSE in the agriculture value chain

  • Reducing post-harvest losses with off-grid solar – Investigate how various Productive Use of Solar Energy (PUSE) applications are aiding East African farmers in curbing up to 40% post-harvest losses across different agriculture chains.
  • Transforming mills: Solar vs. diesel – Report on the shift from traditional diesel mills to new, cost-effective solar mills driven by PUSE innovations. Explain the technology behind these solar mills challenging the perception of diesel mills’ superiority.
  • Solar-powered cold storage – Visit a cold storage facility and illustrate its impact on farmers’ lives and market access. Showcase changes since its inception and extrapolate the potential impact on a larger scale if replicated for multiple farmers.
  • Solar energy’s impact on agricultural energy poverty – Report on energy poverty in farming regions, investigating the struggle for electricity access. Use current data to show how off-grid solar solutions are aiding access. Compare trends in off-grid solar adoption with other energy sources.

Energy poverty and climate change

  • Evolving energy sources in agriculture – Contrast off-grid solar solutions with traditional energy sources in energy-poor agricultural areas. Highlight the pros and cons of off-grid solar versus conventional options.
  • Switching to solar power in fishing – Explore diesel boat usage among Lake Victoria fishermen, analysing their CO2 emissions. Investigate the potential impact of shifting from diesel to solar-powered engines. Interview innovators and fishermen using solar-powered engines.
  • The impact of kerosene lamps on fishing communities – Assess the widespread use of kerosene lamps in East Africa’s fishing, focusing on financial burdens. Evaluate solar-powered lamps as a solution for these communities.
  • PUSE in Ugandan coffee production – Report on the integration of off-grid solar in Uganda’s coffee production, featuring cases like NUCAFE’s solar plant. Investigate carbon-neutral coffee production due to the productive use of solar energy.
  • Boosting coffee harvest with solar energy – Analyse the influence of solar irrigation on farming. Investigate how solar systems impact farmers and coffee production.

Business and economy

  • Green jobs in solar – Unpack reports on job creation potential in PUSE applications by examining transitions from traditional electricity sources. Highlight job opportunities stemming from PUSE replacements and data on job growth in various solar industries.
  • Is East Africa a solar investment magnet? – Investigate the trend of heightened solar energy investments in East Africa compared to the rest of the continent. Explore reasons behind this trend through insights from funders and experts, evaluating its implications.
  • Kenya’s success in off-grid solar adoption – Showcase Kenya’s leadership in off-grid solar adoption through investment and innovation. Highlight success stories of farmers to illustrate Kenya’s best practices, offering lessons for other nations.

Policy and regulation

  • Kenya’s policy shift in off-grid solar – Explore Kenya’s ‘transformative’ policies shaping the off-grid solar sector. Highlight distinct aspects and innovations in these policies compared to other countries in East Africa. Interview legal experts, funders, and research institutions to unravel the impact of new regulations.
  • Deciphering Uganda’s off-grid solar roadmap – Unpack Uganda’s roadmap for off-grid solar, detailing its implications for farmers, and dealers, and outlining the funders involved in the system. Analyse its significance in shaping the national approach toward off-grid solar utilisation.
  • Tanzania’s legal hurdles in off-grid solar adoption – Investigate and assess Tanzania’s policy and legal landscape concerning off-grid solar, highlighting existing barriers. Interview experts and industry associations advocating for legal changes. Compare with progressive jurisdictions and propose reforms to enhance the sector’s viability.
  • Unlocking off-grid solar through financial solutions – Investigate the financial barriers hindering solar system adoption. Report on the successes or failures of different financing models in East Africa. Gather expert recommendations from policymakers and industry players.

PUSE innovation case studies

  • MAVUNOLAB’s solar dryers – Write a feature on MAVUNOLAB’s solar dryers as a solution to high post-harvest losses in fishing. Break down the causes and impacts of these losses. Interview MAVUNOLAB to explore the uniqueness, impact, and scalability of its solar dryers.
  • Transforming rural farming through pay-as-you-go solutions – Highlight the underreported PAYGo innovation benefiting rural farmers. Explain its functionality, participants, reach and impact. Interview beneficiary farmers and service providers to illustrate its significance.
  • Solar-powered eff incubators – Report on cases of solar-powered egg incubators aiding small-scale poultry farmers in Kenya. Interview proprietors on unique features, impact, and scalability. Show how these incubators work and their advantages over traditional ones by visiting farmers using them.

Resources for journalists to explore PUSE

Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA): GOGLA has over the past decade, been publishing the biennial Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report (MTR). The report is a great source of sector information for trends in the off-grid solar market. https://www.gogla.org/reports-publications/

Lighting Global: Lighting Global is the World Bank’s initiative to rapidly increase access to off-grid solar energy for the hundreds of millions of people living without electricity world-wide. The resources section of the Lighting Global website also has a lot of good information on the off-grid solar industry. https://www.lightingglobal.org/resources/

Uganda’s National Roadmap for Productive Use of Solar Energy https://www.gogla.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Gogla_PURE-Roadmap-Report-Uganda.pdf

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA): IRENA serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, supports countries in their energy transitions, and provides state of the art data and analyses on technology, innovation, policy, finance and investment. https://www.irena.org/

The International Energy Agency (IEA): Provides regular analysis, data, policy recommendations, and real-world solutions for countries on secure and sustainable energy for all. https://www.iea.org/

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO): The UN agency works towards achieving food security for all. Its publications including the World Food and Agriculture – Statistical Yearbook are a treasure trove of information on sustainable agriculture practices.https://www.fao.org/publications/en/

The Collaborative Labeling and Appliance Standards Program (CLASP) is an international organisation that provides technical and policy support to governments worldwide and works on implementation of energy efficiency standards and labels (S&L) for appliances, lighting, and equipment.https://www.clasp.ngo/

UNSTATISTICS ON ENERGY ACCESS FOR ALL/SDG7: https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2021/goal-07/

Other sources

  • National budget documents
  • National Electricity Regulatory Authorities websites
  • Ministries of Energy websites
  • Ministries of Agriculture websites

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