solar microgridsThe United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped establish three solar microgrids in rural Yemeni communities. Earlier this year, the British charity Ashden honored the scheme as one of 11 recipients of its prestigious Ashden Awards. These annual awards recognize initiatives whose efforts to deliver sustainable energy have produced important social and economic advantages.

Solving a Fuel Shortage and Economic Crisis

Yemen’s energy infrastructure cannot transport power to rural towns and villages. Thus, many of these communities depend upon highly-polluting diesel generators. However, longstanding conflict and crippling embargoes have made fossil fuels scarce and expensive. Moreover, oil prices have fluctuated in recent years, and poverty has skyrocketed. This crisis has affected approximately three-quarters of Yemen’s population. Current estimates indicate that more than two out of five households have been deprived of their primary source of income. It’s also been found that women are more acutely impacted than men.

Now, the energy situation is shifting. The UNDP has provided funding and support to three different groups of entrepreneurs that own and operate solar microgrids. The three are located in Abs in the district of Bani Qais in the northwest and in Lahij Governate in the south. Their stations provide clean, sustainable energy to local residents and at a much lower price. The solar microgrids charge only $0.02 per hour as opposed to the $0.42 per hour that diesel costs.

Such savings for households and businesses have greatly impacted the local economies. Not only can people work after sunset, they also possess more disposable income. According to Al Jazeera, approximately 2,100 people have been able to save money and put it toward creating their own small businesses. These include services for welding, sewing, grocery stores and other shops. So far, a total of 10,000 Yemenis have benefitted from the energy provided by the three solar microgrids.

Empowering New Leaders in Business

The entrepreneurs who founded and now run the microgrid facilities in Bani Qais and Lahij Governate are young men. However, the power station in Abs is completely owned and operated by women. These Abs women receive training in necessary technical skills and study business and finance.

Some expected the scheme to fail due to the sophisticated knowledge it required and the relative inexperience of the facilities’ operators. Well, one year has passed, and the solar microgrids are running at full capacity. The project thus offers a valuable model for creating jobs in a country where civil war has shattered the economy and hobbled basic infrastructure.

Specifically for the women in Abs, though, a steady income and the ability to provide a much-needed service have increased their self-confidence. These women can feed their families and use the university educations they each worked for to a great extent. As the station’s director explained, their work has even earned them the respect and admiration of those who used to ridicule them for taking on what was once considered a man’s job.

Looking to the Future

The success of the UNDP’s project’s first stage shows a possible solution to Yemen’s problem of energy scarcity. The UNDP now works to find funding for an additional 100 solar microgrids. Since civil war began in 2015, both sides have tried to limit each other’s access to the fossil fuels that Yemen depends upon. Pro-government coalition forces have prevented ships cleared by the U.N. from unloading their cargoes in the north. On the other side, Houthi-led rebels have recently suspended humanitarian flights to Sanaa, the country’s largest city and its capital. This is all in the midst of hospitals struggling to care for patients during the pandemic.

The UNDP’s solar microgrids are a source of hope among the many conflicts plaguing Yemen. More still, it is likely others will soon follow in the footsteps of the three initial young entrepreneurs. These solar microgrids stations have empowered Yemeni communities to build better and more sustainable futures and will for years to come.

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

Advancements in Agricultural Technology
Agriculture is a salient cultivation practice, enriching the quality of life for generations upon generations of people since the first civilizations formed on Earth. Today, agriculture is essential for stimulating the global economy and can lead to higher job creation, especially when considering national poverty reduction efforts. Advancements in agricultural technology can make agriculture more efficient and help reduce poverty levels around the world.

More agricultural productivity means greater income for farmers, lower food prices, increased food supplies and more job opportunities in rural and urban areas. Consumer demand for goods that non-agricultural sectors produce also increases as income increases; this connection between growth in the agricultural sector and other constituents are what have allowed developing countries to diversify the products and services available within their own economies and the global economy.

Food Insecurity and Agriculture

Today, over 800 million people globally are undernourished and approximately 700 million people are severely food insecure, though there is a falling trend in malnourishment as time passes. This is demanding for all, but especially for children, who are the most vulnerable, as they are still developing both physically and mentally. Poor nutrition, even for a short time, can stunt development in the long run and produce adverse effects on children’s futures.

Despite these harsh realities, the FAO has been a key player in reducing global hunger, assisting countries in assessing various constraints on land use with the goal of achieving an optimally sustainable usage and allocation of resources and empowering people to make informed agricultural decisions for their communities. In the last 20 years, the FAO reports that undernourishment fell from 18.7% to 11.3% globally, and from 23.4% to 13.5% for developing countries.

Advancements in Agricultural Technology

In order to further mitigate the adverse effects of food insufficiency and insecurity, countries must rely on technological innovations in the agricultural sector to keep up with increasing food demands. Here are five advancements to agricultural technology that aim to shift the paradigm of hunger and malnourishment for generations to come.

  1. Solar Mini-Grids in Myanmar: In Myanmar, solar mini-grids have played an important role in bringing electricity to hundreds of villages around the country, especially for rural and remote communities, where working mini-grids offer an opportunity to build resilience and farm sustainably. With partial funding from the World Bank and Parami Energy and with villagers covering the rest of the funding, 1,442 households connected to the mini-grid, changing the way many families live and increasing the productivity on their farms. Over the course of 2020, Parami Energy plans to connect 4,097 more homes to the mini-grid system, and by 2030, the government hopes to achieve national electrification for Myanmar.
  2. GPS-Enabled Cell Phones: Some are using GPS-enabled cell phones to monitor agricultural extension agents (AEAs) in Paraguay. In order to manage how people receive agricultural services, central governments often assign local supervisors some authority over processes. Even though the supervisors are knowledgeable about local affairs, they still may be unable to monitor the performance of workers. These GPS-enabled cell phones allow supervisors to see where AEAs are at all times, how much time they spend in each place and their reported activities with farmers. A research study found that the phones positively influenced the performance of AEAs, increasing the number of farmers they visited by 6%, 22% greater than the AEAs who did not receive monitoring.
  3. Waru Warus: A revamping of ancient agricultural technologies is coming to fruition in Peru, as sustainable practices increase in a nationwide fight against environmental challenges and poverty. Farmers use waru warus to irrigate crops and store water. This agricultural technology system, a mix of raised beds and irrigation channels, is an inexpensive way to improve crop yields and mitigate the detrimental effects of farming at 12,500 feet above sea level. Alipio Canahua, an agronomist working with the FAO, stated that waru warus capture “water when there are droughts and drain away water when there’s too much rain, meaning that it irrigates the crops all year round.
  4. The NextGen Cassava Breeding Project: The NextGen Cassava Breeding project (NextGen Cassava) aims to streamline cassava breeding facilities in Africa and efficiently deliver improved varieties of cassava with advanced technology. The beneficiaries of this project are cassava farmers of Africa, who receive improved cassava varieties and root yields that are more resilient to pests and diseases, and exhibit other desirable traits that farmers prefer. Disease-resistant varieties of cassava take a substantial amount of time to grow. However, with NextGen’s use of accurate computer modeling techniques, this time has reduced by half and much new information on the plant is on the Cassavabase open-source database for future use.
  5. Rice Transplanters: Japan has widely used rice transplanters for efficient rice seedling planting. This machine aims to lessen the burden on farmers by reducing the need for manual labor in the rice-planting process. First, the rice planter creates a map of the rice field using a GPS while it moves around the perimeter of the field. The planter then calculates its planting route based on the map and automatically plants rice seedlings with the machine. A remote controller needs to monitor the machine, however, a person does not have to drive it, considerably reducing the amount of physical labor necessary.

As the world shifts into a time where innovation is the prevalent driver of change, humanity’s oldest sustainable cultivation practices are also shifting to meet the dynamic array of global needs. Advances in agricultural technology are necessary to meet the increasing demands of food and sustainability for future generations. And while finances are difficult to procure for any investment in innovation, there is a culture of empowerment—especially in the nations who need these advancements the most—which instills a socioeconomic structure regarding the social context of innovation, necessary to inform and encourage the younger generations to further improve the world.

– Sarah Uddin
Photo: Flickr