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Competition Aims to Bring Light to Africans Off the Grid

  • Michael Onyiego

In an effort to raise standards of living across the continent, the World Bank Group's Lighting Africa Program has chosen five products it believes can bring light to poor and rural communities in Africa.

Lighting Africa is a joint program of the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank. The initiative aims to support the development of modern energy and lighting solutions for people in sub-Saharan Africa living without access to an electricity grid.

At the second annual International Business Conference and Trade Fair this week in Kenya, the program held its first competition to identify the best off-grid lighting systems in production.

The competition is designed to encourage market alternatives to kerosene lighting for communities in Africa without access to electricity.

According to the Program, More than 500-million Africans lack regular access to electricity. In addition to the health and safety risks, the kerosene used by the majority to light their homes proves a significant financial burden for communities struggling with poverty.

Lighting Africa estimates people in these communities spend anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of their incomes on kerosene, amounting annually to around $10-billion across the continent.

Entrants in the competition were judged by a panel of experts in five categories: Room Lighting, Task Lighting, Portable Torch Lighting, Best Value and Top Performance. The recipient of the Best Value award was the Firefly from Barefoot Power. The Firefly is a 12-volt LED lamp that can provide light for up to six hours on a fully charged battery.

The Best Value category was a critical component of the overall competition. To qualify for the designation all products were priced at under $40, making them accessible to poorer consumers.

The program manager for Lighting Africa, Patrick Avato, says although $40 is a large sum of money for the majority of Africans, the saving of fuel makes these products more affordable in the long term.

"The money they are currently spending on Kerosene is huge. Five to $10 a month is really a very typical kind of expenditure on Kerosene," Avato said. "So, while the upfront cost of a modern lighting product is higher, the repayments through the savings of Kerosene can actually make the product economically attractive in a matter of months. Microfinance can really help to address this by allowing consumers to pay over time."

Lighting Africa is exploring ways in which providing small loans to community groups can help pay for the systems.

The program also hopes to eventually bring down the cost of these products, which Avato says retail for half as much in developing nations such as India. Lighting Africa plans to work with African countries to eliminate trade inefficiencies, such as tariffs, to make modern lighting more attractive to exporters and consumers alike.

The five winners of the competition have earned the right to market their products with the Lighting Africa seal of approval and will take part in an educational campaign to encourage the use of modern lighting technology over more fuel-based systems. The campaign will target consumers in Ghana and Kenya before expanding to the rest of Africa.

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