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

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 many parts of 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).

To enhance the value of each SBiz centre and build customer loyalty in the local community, we plan to include training programs in areas such as financial literacy, climate change adaptation, and non-violent conflict resolution for members of this community, especially for girls and women.

2) Free Digital Resources

The free digital resources include content assembled by Learning Equality and Kiwix, which includes offline versions of Wikipedia,  The information content will be served to nearby devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers via WiFi using these two complementary software platforms: Kolibri by Learning Equality and Kiwix.  For more information these resources, visit this page about initiative by our non-profit partner, CharityHelp International: Expanding Free Access to Offline Educational Resources Initiative.

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”.  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

We plan to include training programs in areas such as financial literacy, climate change adaptation, and non-violent conflict resolution with each SBiz Centre, especially for girls and women.  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 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

6) Financing SBiz Centres and Training Programs

The total project is expected to cost Cdn$2,500,000 with about a 75% contribution by Global Affairs Canada.  Funding is planned as follows:

a) A network of 6 SBiz Centres for approximately Cdn$900,000 with 33% grant funded and the other 67% funded through innovative blended finance that is partly guaranteed by the multi-billion dollar Africa Guarantee Fund.

b) Training facilities and programs at University of Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana and in each Sbiz Centre for approximately Cdn$1,050,000.  These training programs will be in areas such as financial literacy, climate change adaptation, and non-violent conflict resolution with each SBiz Centre, especially for girls and women.  To lower operating costs and increase availability of specialized instructors, some distance training through the internet will be utilized.  In this way, instructors from other locations in and outside of Ghana can implement some of the training.

7) Existing and Potential Project Partners

We plan implement this project with the West African Centre for Water, Irrigation and Sustainable Agriculture (WACWISA) at the University for Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana.  In addition, we plan to invite other potential partners to join this project including:

a) International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
b) International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
c) International Water Management Institute
d) University of Ghana Business School (USBS);
e) University of Ghana’s Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies
f) Pan African Centre for Climate (PACC) Policy

8) Develop a 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, we plan to contact them about 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. 

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)

9) 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.   

10) 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.
d) CFR: Climate Change and Conflict in the Sahel, Nov 2022.  The African countries of the Sahel stand to be among the most affected by climate change.
Climate change, vulnerability and security in the Sahel, 30 November, 2022
f) OECD: Climate Change in the Sahel Region: Policy considerations

11) Some webpages with background information assembled by ClimateSAN