By Hazvinei Mwanaka
Villagers in Zimbabwe’s southern province of Masvingo are urging the government to expand renewable energy technologies to rural areas given its huge potential to improve livelihoods and socio-economic development.
Rural communities in Zimbabwe depend on firewood and cannot meet the expense of connection fees charged by the Rural Electrification Agency (REA).
Sinikiwe Dhumbu of Mhatiwa village in Chivi, said they have a hard time searching for firewood for their energy needs and are resorting to using cow dung.
“I have two school-going daughters. Preparing them to go school every morning is a hassle. We use firewood but it’s scarce. We are also not allowed to cut down trees so we end up using cow dung as an alternative. But it also depends if one has cows, if not, it means spending endless hours collecting cow dung from the pastures.
“We just appeal to the government to make renewable energy technologies available in our communities as it will better our lives,” she said.
Renewable energy curbs deforestation, reduces smoke which has adverse health effects, air pollution and improves access to information and communications technologies.
Another villager Simon Duure of Chinjiva village in Chivi, said if renewable energy technologies are adapted in schools it will go a long way in improving passing rates.
“Our children need a lot of resources … such as the internet which will improve their education. They will have more time to study at school or even at homes.
“If responsible authorities can introduce this in our community and educate us more … this will help in improving our lives” he said.
Masvingo provincial Environmental Management Agency (EMA) manager, Robson Mavondo, said the use of renewable energy in rural areas will help curb deforestation and fight climate change.
“The use of solar energy or biogas acts as substitutes to using trees for heating and lighting, thereby reducing the number of trees that are cut down. Solar energy is pollution free as it does not produce any smoke into the environment as compared to wood,” he said.
He said his organisation conducts awareness meetings, road shows, trainings and workshops that reach out to rural communities, educating them on the dangers of deforestation and the benefits of sustainable use and preservation of trees.
Renewable energy expert in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, Blessing Jonga, said the government is urging private players to invest and exploit the ready market for renewable energy technologies in rural areas.
He said the Ministry did not have exact statistics on the number of people who have adopted solar energy. “Most rural households are harnessing solar energy one way or another with the commonest of the solar technology being solar lanterns. Some use the solar home systems for entertainment and lighting,” he said.
Jonga said uptake for biogas technology was in the past very low due to financial constraints and low awareness.
“Starting from 2012, government together with some NGOs like SNV, Hivos, Environment Africa and WWF, has managed to help increase biogas technology uptake in the country through capacity building through training of masons, construction of pilot plants, increased awareness activities and quality control activities.
“To date more than 250 rural households have biogas digesters and have completely moved away from reliance on firewood … and also have the extra benefit of bio-slurry which comes out of a biogas digester, which they use as organic fertiliser in their gardens and fields,” he said.
Masvingo District Forestry Extension Officer, Edwin Machokoto, said the average rural household in Zimbabwe uses around a cubic metre of firewood per month.
“This translates to 12 cubic metres per annum. The effects are that large tracts of forest land are lost annually causing land degradation which negatively affects agricultural productivity and water availability, siltation of rivers and loss of goods and services which forests provide to sustain ecosystems and humans,” he said.