For the first time, women farmers in the rural villages of Bessassi and Dunkassa in Northern Benin are able to grow produce during the six-month dry season, improving food security and nutrition for themselves and their families. With excess crops, the farmers are also able to increase their income by selling fruits and vegetables at the local markets. SELF’s Solar Market Garden (SMG) project has proved. That solar energy can provide long-term solutions to hunger, malnutrition, and poverty in developing regions of the world.

Kalalé, located in Northern Benin, is a poor, arid region of the country, populated with approximately 100,000 people— many of which do not have access to the national electricity grid. The economy, as in most rural districts, is based upon agriculture having more than 95% of the population tied to farming. With a dry season that produces little to no rainfall from November through April of each year, Kalalé’s annual crop yield is easily influenced by natural conditions. The land parched and the people are left hungry. As a result, malnutrition is widespread, evidenced by the children with distended bellies— a telltale sign of Kwashiorkor, a condition caused by the lack of sufficient protein and micronutrient consumption.

In 2006, SELF was first contacted by Dr. Mamoudou Setamou— a native of Kalalé, who is now a professor at Texas A&M University— had recently participated in a council meeting to explore options for electrifying the region’s villages since the national grid would not extend to remote areas of Northern Benin for the foreseeable future. Mamoudou believed that solar power could be the answer to the needs of his people. Over the following months, SELF put together a plan to generate solar electricity for a wide range of end-issues: schools, health clinics, water pumping systems, street lighting, and wireless internet access in each of the 44 villages that comprise the Kalalé District. An on-the-ground needs assessment revealed that the first concern among the local communities was food security: to find a way to overcome the endemic lack of water and agricultural produce that condemn the district with an endless cycle of poverty and poor health.

SELF worked with Professor Dov Pasternak and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics to engineer solar powered drip irrigation systems. Finally, in November 2007, SELF partnered with the Association pour le Development Developpement Economique Social et Culturel de Kalalé (ADESCA) to launch a remarkable pilot project, installing an innovative solar-powered drip irrigation system to pump water for food crops. SELF engineers developed a 1.2 kW solar electric power supply that provides 100% of the energy for the pump. SELF secured seed funding for the project by emerging as a winner in the 2006 Global Development Marketplace competition, sponsored by the World Bank.

In 2009, Stanford University’s Program of Food Security and the Environment (FSE) conducted an economic and environmental assessment of our multi-sector intervention in Benin. FSE published its findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January 2010. Researchers found that income and nutrition had significantly improved for the women and their families since SELF installed three solar irrigation systems in 2007. The study also concluded that SELF’s SMG model was cost effective and environmentally sustainable.

SELF was awarded a Great Energy Challenge grant from National Geographic for its work in Benin. This grant enabled SELF to move forward with a whole village electrification initiative in the villages of Bessassi and Dunkassa. The Great Energy Challenge is an important three-year partnership between National Geographic and Shell, designed to help all of us better understand the breadth and depth of our current energy situation. National Geographic has assembled some of the world’s foremost researchers and scientists to help tackle the challenge. Led by Thomas Lovejoy, a National Geographic conservation fellow and renowned biologist, the team of advisers will work together to identify and provide support for projects focused on innovative energy solutions. - Powering a brighter 21st century.

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Since 1990, SELF has completed projects in more than 25 countries and pioneered unique applications of solar power such as for drip irrigation in Benin, health care in Haiti, telemedicine in the Amazon rain forest, online learning in South Africa and microenterprise development in Nigeria.

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