A Need for Lighting
Practically none of the smallholder farmers that One Acre Fund serves have access to electricity. This is not unusual where they live. 88 percent of people living in rural sub-Saharan Africa lack electricity. That’s why low-cost solar lamp technology is such a boon for Africa’s smallholder farmers.
Solar lamps allow farmers to charge their cell phones, light their homes at night so their children can do schoolwork, and even generate extra income by charging neighbors a small fee to recharge their cell phones. They cost about $20, which is a lot less than the $80 per year farmers spend on fuel for older kerosene lamps. When you live on an average of $2 per day, this represents big savings.
Testing Solar Lamps as a Product
Since the 2011 season, One Acre Fund has offered solar lamps as an optional part of our loan package alongside seed and fertilizer. Over time, we’ve adjusted this program to better meet the needs of our farmers.
Recently, we met with groups of farmers in Bungoma, Kenya to gauge their interest in buying different types of solar lamps and the option to buy more than one. To better understand what our farmers were interested in purchasing, we held “demonstration days” where farmers could test out various types of solar lamps and see how well they worked in a dark indoor space. Afterwards, we surveyed half the attendees on their interest in the lamps, how much they were willing to pay for them, and their previous experience with solar lamps.
The survey uncovered some valuable information. We learned that many of the farmers surveyed were interested in purchasing a second or even a third solar lamp. Farmers preferred the less expensive Solo and Mobile models as a secondary light in addition to the more costly Pro II. Farmers liked the Mobile because it was cheaper, but still offered some phone charging capability.
When it came to use of lights, farmers primarily used them for charging mobile phones, though many also mentioned that their children would use the lamps for studying. We also learned that farmers valued 'brightness' the most in solar lights. The Solo was popular because it’s up to five times brighter than traditional kerosene lamps.
Previously we had only offered the Pro II solar lamp, made by a company called Greenlight Planet. We were a bit worried that if we started offering the company’s Sun King Solo and Mobile models, sales of the Pro II would drop off significantly. However, in a trial program we found that while there was only a 7 percent decrease in sales of the Pro II, there was a 20 percent increase in overall sales. In our 2015 season, we’ll offer our clients all three models of solar lamps.
A key part of One Acre Fund’s model is using farmer feedback to improve operations. It’s how we find out what products and services best meet farmer needs. In this case, the cost efficiency improvement from selling the solar lamps farmers want is better for One Acre Fund, and better for farmers.
In other words, it’s all about solutions that increase impact and improve sustainability at the same time.