TAPERA CHIKUVIRA

For many years, poor rural communities in Lesotho did not have power – power to influence government to involve them in decisions that affect their lives, and power to light their homes.

Now they have both!

This is after the government last year embarked on an ambitious 15-year solar home system targeting installing 1,000 systems per annum in the rural areas as it works towards enhancing eco-friendly and sustainable energy use.

The government says it plans to spend about US$351.46 million between 2015-2030 to promote new and renewable energy technologies to help the country mitigate effects of climate change.

Part of the funds will go towards implementing energy efficiency measures, including the removal of institutional barriers to energy efficiency improvement, as well as dissemination of biomass cook and space heating stoves, during the same period.

Under its Rural Electrification Unit, the government engages communities to mobilise M2,000 (about US$140 ) per family towards the solar home systems while it pays for grid services and subsidises other costs. Communities paying the required amounts are connected first and each family receives a 65W panel, a battery bank and an invertor.

Principal secretary in the ministry of energy and meteorology, Emmanuel Lesoma says the government is keen to work with villagers to ensure they have access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy, especially the poor.

Lesoma told the recent 13th Regional Electricity Regulators Association of Southern Africa annual energy conference in Maseru that solar and wind energy were essential power alternatives for Lesotho, given the country’s treacherous topology and high cost of hydropower.

The meeting agreed that renewal energy remains the most effective way of saving the planet, noting there is still much to be done to improve exploitation of renewable resources.

According to the Lesotho Energy Policy 2015 and the Draft Lesotho Renewable Energy Policy 2013, the government plans to increase energy efficiency significantly and shift energy supply to more climate-friendly technologies.

The country’s Energy Sector Mitigation Programme targets to increase renewable energy sources by 200MW by 2020, of which 40MW is expected to come from solar in the 2017/2018 financial year and another 35MW from wind, and the remaining 125 MW from hydropower.

In this endeavour, the government is working with non-governmental organisations such as Technologies for Economic Development (TED) to encourage the adaption of renewable energy technologies.

TED director Mantopi Lebofa says between 70 percent and 77 percent of people in Lesotho’s rural areas rely on biomass for cooking, lighting and heating, resulting in over-exploitation of natural resources hence the need to go for renewable sources of energy.

She adds technologies promoted by the organisation are going a long way towards reducing heavy reliance on biomass such as wood and animal dung mostly in the outlying districts.

Women and girls who are often the principal energy managers in most households are sometimes forced to uproot grass and shrubs leading to soil erosion because they do not have alternative renewable energy sources.

“This is a cause for concern,” Lebofa explains.

“We have also heard of some marginalised people falling sick or even dying of cold because of non-availability of heating facilities. That is why we are joining hands with other NGOs and the government to promote renewable energy as a sustainable alternative.”

Although some villagers like Limpho Makara from Quthing in southern Lesotho have not yet benefited from the government rural electrification programme, they have not been left behind by the ‘solar craze’ train.

She prides that her life has changed significantly since she started using a small solar lamp last year.

The easy-to-use and maintain lantern traps solar using a small battery attached to the empty jar top.

Before she acquired it, she and other villagers used to walk several kilometres to collect firewood for cooking and lighting, a tough and time consuming routine.

“This simple gadget has changed our lives remarkably. It is smart and we don’t sneeze anymore from smoke caused by paraffin or firewood. It is also environment-friendly,” she glowingly says.

Makara is now saving money to buy a solar-powered smokeless stove that provides clean cooking and mobile phone charging.

Another local non-governmental organisation, African Clean Energy says the ACE 1 stove is benefiting many rural households because is it cost effective and friendly to the environment.

TED is also working in conjunction with the ministry of natural resources and that of forestry under the Renewable Energy Project, aimed at removing barriers to the adoption of renewable energy technologies.

The United Nations Development Programme-funded initiative also seeks to decentralise renewable energy production of solar and biogas as well as energy service technologies.

However, despite efforts by the government and its partners technological, financial and institutional barriers to climate change adaption continue to dog Lesotho.

The ministry of energy and meteorology recognises limited tools, national research capacity and technical analysis are some of the key limitations to technological development.

As a least developed country, Lesotho does also not have adequate funds to implement climate change adaptation activities.

Furthermore, it lacks institutional infrastructures and frameworks to implement adaptation measures in the energy and agriculture sectors.

To address these challenges, the government notes it needs to build capacity of experts and stakeholders in the preparation of data collection to enhance information management sharing within and across sectors.

A consultant on sustainable development and community resilience, Anna Brazier has called on governments in the region to improve collection and dissemination of meteorological and water resource data to encourage people to take action that helps minimize the effects of climate change.

She says there is need to come up with clear, simple messages highlighting economic and social benefits of action of appreciating the environment and coming up with actions that preserves it.

“Governments can also finalise and roll-out policies on climate change, in addition to training community-based extension agents to work with the people.”