Energy partnership changes lives in Africa

Finland is funding the Energy and Environment Partnership Trust Fund (EEP Africa) that boosts the use of renewable energy in Southern and East Africa. In rural Malawi, homes have electricity and farms irrigation pumps thanks to solar energy.

Chilungamo Banda in Malawi
Photographer: Jussi Viding

In Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, people flock to attend an EEP Africa information event. They are mostly young people who are interested in renewable energy. More chairs are brought in to seat an audience of more than hundred people. Evidently, there is a great need and demand for renewable energy and for new kinds of services.

EEP Africa is a climate project founded by Finland in 2010. It provides clean energy financing in 15 countries of Southern and East Africa. EEP Africa helps countries increase their supply of sustainable energy, strengthen their energy security, reduce poverty and prevent climate change. The Trust Fund has been managed by the Nordic Development Fund (NDF) since 2018.

The trust fund has helped companies grow

At the Lilongwe event, entrepreneurs describe how EEP Africa has helped them.

Maya Khonje-Stewart founded Yellow Solar Power to train Malawians in selling solar energy systems for domestic use. Thanks to the company, many homes can now power electric lighting and a television for the first time. The opportunities given to women, in particular, to work in sales have borne fruit.

“Because women do not usually have smartphones, which are necessary in this work, we started giving them a smartphone as part of the training. As they are earning more money, women have also started new businesses and are now employing other people in sewing shops and other places,” Khonje-Stewart says.

Yellow Solar Power has grown fast and has now 88 employees and 1,100 salespersons. Next, the company will be expanding into other parts of Africa.

Priscilla Sani-Chimwele’s company Wala offers solar-powered irrigation pumps to Malawian farmers’ cooperatives. “EEP Africa helped Wala experiment with a scheme where we sell solar-powered irrigation pumps on credit to farmers’ cooperatives and train the farmers in how to use the pumps.”

Thanks to Wala’s pumps, the cooperatives have been able to expand the varieties they cultivate, their yields have improved and the farmers are better adapted to climate change which already has a significant impact in Malawi. Wala employs now 23 full-time workers and indirectly some 160 people.

Both Khonje-Stewart and Sani-Chimwele commend EEP Africa for being a resilient financier on markets where start-ups find it difficult, or even impossible, to get funding from local financial institutions.

“EEP Africa gave us people-centred and solution-oriented assistance even in difficult situations,” Priscilla Sani-Chimwele says.

Electric motorcycles and flourmills

Colin Sargent and Eveline Sibindi Van Dam listen intently when Chiezda Mazaiwana, a project coordinator for EEP Africa, gives companies tips on how to succeed in the upcoming call for project applications. Inspired by the examples of Khonje-Stewart and Sani-Chimwele, Sargent and Sibindi Van Dam are planning to apply for the call for applications in April 2023.

After the event, Colin Sargent recounts how he moved to Malawi five years ago. He studied Classical Studies in Boston when he and his friend decided to move to Malawi to do business because they saw opportunities for new kinds of business ideas in the country.

“We are planning an e-mobility project where we import solar-powered electric motorcycles to Malawi. It would create a new kind of service in the country and help people cope with shortages of fuel,” Sargent says.

Eveline Sibindi Van Dam is building a mill in Malawi. The construction work is well underway for the maize and cassava flourmill. She plans to sell the flour to the neighbouring food-processing plant.

“I will buy the raw materials directly from farmers to help them improve their position. Many farmers are in trouble because some buyers are beating down the prices of raw materials,” Sibindi Van Dam says. According to her, the mill is designed along the principles of the circular economy to produce no waste. She is interested in getting renewable energy to her mill because the power grid is unreliable in Malawi.

In recent years, EEP Africa has helped many companies grow and reach a level where they can get even other forms of financing that are designed for larger companies. We will see whether Sargent and Sibindi Van Dam can reach this level with their companies.

Text: Petri Wanner