TR-BizAfrica-logo-2017-03-30B-transparent-backgroundin Ghana

Combining Solar-Powered Irrigation with Free Digital Resources
to Facilitate
Food Production, Education and Entrepreneurship
in Northern Ghana
Funding Through Blended Finance

Paul Stevers
Think Renewables Group

1) Introduction

ThinkBiz Africa is combining proven solar-powered social businesses with free educational resources in Africa to support education and entrepreneurship, especially for women and girls.  Each centre will include at least one solar-powered business, such as a solar-powered irrigation system or a solar-powered cold storage system. 

Due to climate change, rainfall patterns in northern Ghana are no longer consistent and as a result, many farmers no longer know when to plant their crops.  This is causing many people to become food-insecure.  To overcome this problem, substantially more irrigation systems are needed to create more reliable water supply for their crops.  Therefore, our proposed plan includes at least one irrigation system associated with each SBiz Centre.

Example Solar-Powered Irrigation System. Courtesy of SunCulture

Example Solar-Powered Irrigation System. Courtesy of SunCulture.

Through this project, we plan to scale-up implementation of the best available solar-powered irrigation systems and build on the experience already gained in Ghana with irrigation related initiatives, such as the recent one by Integrated Water & Agricultural Development Ghana Limited (IWAD) and by the Ghana Commercial Agricultural Project (GCAP).

2) Free Digital Resources

The free digital resources would include the large offline eLibrary of educational information assembled by World Possible, which is being distributed in Ghana by the local chapter in Ghana of this organization, and information copied from Ghanaian government websites.  In addition, we plan to expand this eLibrary with the open source information created through the US$15m Learning xPrize that is designed to “enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic within 15 months”.  The prize was announced in May of 2019.  One of the winners of this prize was One Billion, which we understand is making their free software available to organizations who request to it.

Along with this content, we plan to include information to facilitate entrepreneurship.  For example, if we receive permission from the World Bank, we will include a copy of their SME Toolkit in our offline eLibrary. This information would be made available for free via Wi-Fi to anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer.

3) Complementary Training Programs

If funding is available, training programs in areas such as financial literacy, climate change adaptation, and non-violent conflict resolution can be provided.  Information related to these training programs, including short videos, would be included in the eLibrary located in each SBiz Centre.

4) Communications

When needed, we plan to include one of our Conferencing eStation (CeS) models within the SBiz Centre to facilitate remote monitoring and technical support for each social business that is part of this centre.  The CeS will also will be utilized to support education and entrepreneurship in the local community.

5) Example Additional Social Businesses.

Other businesses can be located on land that designated for the SBiz Centre if they provide positive social benefits to the community and are profitable.  In this way, a SBiz Centre can develop into a commercial mall that supports a range of small businesses.  Given below are some examples of businesses that would be considered:

a) Solar-powered irrigation system, such as one by SunCulture.
b) Solar-powered convenience store, such as one by SOLARKIOSK.
c) Solar-powered micro-grid, such as one by FlexGrid.
d) Solar-powered cold storage, such as one by TAGE.
e) Water filter system and automated dispenser (ATM), such as the one by Susteq
f) Water from air machine, such as the one by Skywater
g) Biodigester to generate energy from waste

In addition, the proposed network of SBiz Centres can be combined with a wood pellet business by Inyenyeri FPC that provides free wood pellet stoves to families and street vendors as long as they purchase wood pellets from this company.  The pellets are less expensive than charcoal for a similar amount of cooking activity.  Therefore, customers save money by switching to wood pellets and do not need to pay for their respective stoves.

These stoves use about 85 to 90% less biomass than charcoal and burn very clean.  As well, each stove includes a small solar panel to charge the battery to power the fan.  This same solar panel can be used to power solar lights and cell phones.  Therefore, the cell phones used to view information via Wi-Fi from the SBiz Centre can be powered by this solar panel.

6) Financing SBiz Centres

In stable areas of Ghana, we expect these solar-powered SBiz Centres, which include irrigation systems, to be funded through an innovative blended finance program called the Sustainable Energy Finance (SEF) Program.  This program was developed by Climate Financial Advisory Services (CFAS), which is division of SMEFUNDS Capital Limited in Nigeria.  CFAS is now in the process of exploring how best to implement it in Ghana.

The SEF Program funds a project through a combination of a bank loan, which is partly guaranteed by the multi-billion dollar Africa Guarantee Fund, an investment by an equity investor, and a relatively small investment by the project developer.  To incentivize and reduce the risk to the equity investor, part of the reimbursement to this investor will be from carbon emission offset payments.

If a project is large enough, after it is operational and generating revenue, a Green Bond would be issued to enable the project developer to “cash out” and use the proceeds of this transaction to start the next project.  To keep the project developer incentivized to purchase good quality products and keep it working well, this developer will be contracted to perform the operation and maintenance of the project after the refinance is completed via a Green Bond.

Although we expect the SEF program can fully fund projects in stable areas of Ghana, additional funding through grants will likely be needed if an area is in conflict.  If provided, this supplementary grant funding would likely be one of the best investments donors can make to help sustainably stabilize the unstable areas. 

7) Develop Strategy for Expanding Implementation to Other Countries.

The same strategy we are proposing for Ghana can be extended to other countries in West Africa and the Sahel region.  This strategy incorporates some of the initiatives, such as solar-powered irrigation, that are currently proposed by the UN and its partners, but our plan includes a new, innovative way to help finance it on a large scale. 

In addition, our proposed plan appears to be closely aligned with the goals of the Africa Development Bank’s very large Desert to Power program. Therefore, they may become supportive of it.

Since there are many areas in West Africa and the Sahel that are in conflict, considerable funding will be needed to implement our proposed plan on a large scale.  Therefore, to help build a case to access substantial funding from international donors, we propose that a team of specialists be assembled from leading organizations in Africa and other parts of the world to review the existing plans, including ours, for stabilizing the dry areas of West Africa and the Sahel region and develop an enhanced plan that can be funded through blended finance.  Organizations that may participate in this work could include the following:

    1. University for Development Studies (UDS) in Ghana
    2. University of Ghana’s Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies
    3. America Security Project
    4. The Centre for Climate and Security
    5. Global Military Advisory Council On Climate Change

This team could be led by our Director of Education, Economics and Security Strategy, Dr. Leif Rosenberger.  He has more than 35 years of experience in government and academia.  He specializes in connecting economics to security.

To help ensure that this enhanced plan builds on work already completed to stabilize the dry areas of West Africa and the Sahel, the strategic review and update could be completed with input from organizations that have worked on relevant issues in this area including:

    1. United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)
    2. United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS)
    3. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
    4. Government of Ghana
    5. Africa Development Bank (AfDB)

8) Summary

We feel our proposed ThinkBiz Africa project, which combines solar-powered irrigation with free digital resources to support education and entrepreneurship can have a very substantial impact in the northern part of Ghana, especially when combined with training programs in financial literacy, climate change adaptation, and non-violent conflict resolution.  In addition to creating a reliable food supply for communities, the network of SBiz Centres can help create jobs, reduce conflict, and build shared prosperity.   

Perhaps one of the most important features of this project is that a considerable part of it can be financed through the SEF Program, once it is operational in Ghana.

9) Related News Articles

Given below are some recent articles about the large and growing problem in West Africa and the Sahel region:

a) Modern Ghana Article: Ghana, Togo And Benin On Alert Against Jihadist Threat, Mar 21, 2019.
b) World Economic Forum article: The Sahel is engulfed by violence. Climate change, food insecurity and extremists are largely to blame, Jan 23, 2019.
Climate risks, food insecurity and metastasizing violence are all set to intensify in the West African Sahel.
c) AFRICOM Commander on Climate Change: Sahel Receding Almost a Mile Per Year, Mar 16, 2018.