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Solar Power: Better replacement for Kerosene lamps for Rural Women

Mrs. Margret Okot, is a subsistence farmer but saved to buy solar power since she was asthmatic and could not bear the sort emitting kerosene lamps anymore


Felista Auma

Mrs. Margret Okot, is a subsistence farmer. The 67-year-old resident of Kal village, Koch Ongako sub-county in Omoro district knew one source for light from childhood, a kerosene lamp. All her life, she used tadooba (in Luganda), Laput (In Luo) or Atadoba (In Ateso), the Kerosene Lamp.

Most families in Africa used the soot-emitting lamp for decades because there were hardly available alternatives.

The kerosene lamp, a small round metallic tin-like container was a must-have and is still a valuable source of light in homes that have to make that routine trek to town settings from their villages to buy paraffin.

The Lamp is fitted with a five-to-ten-centimeter wig and tightly closed with a metallic ring. For those who cannot afford the wig which costs about Shs200, a cotton piece of cloth is cut and weaved like a thin string to fit the tiny hole at the top of the lamp.

The paraffin would be put quarter way the lump to minimize harm in case of an accident, mainly involving the flames gutting the hut.

Kerosene lamps that are being replaced by solar power
Kerosene lamps use paraffin and emit fumes that are toxic to the environment and human health.

Most families in Africa used the soot-emitting lamp for decades because there were hardly available alternatives. 

Mrs Okot knew the dangers of the flames and the soot. The kerosene lamp would be carefully placed in the centre of the hut to avoid any slight accident. The light is easily blown off by wind but it is better than using dry grass to light the hut, round house divided by a certain to separate the bed side from the sitting room that usually has kitchen set ups as well.

She would buy paraffin for Shs1,000. If used for lighting and reading by school going children in the evenings, Mrs. Okot would have to buy more paraffin after two days.

Mrs Okot longed for a way to get better lighting for her home. The trek to the trading centre once to twice a week was tiring. Using firewood to cook and light at the same time was hectic too.

“I was the chairperson of our village savings group and there came a man called James who was moving door to door sensitizing people about solar power. He told our group members about acquiring solar on loan but since I did not have money to pay the loan after every two weeks as required, I decided to save and buy my own though other people acquired on loan.” Mrs Okot tells FEMJOF-Uganda while at her home in Koch Ongako.

She proudly shares how she saved her money and bought the first solar power in 2017. She sells her farm produce to earn for her family needs. 

Mrs. Okot is one of the rural women who have testimonies of how solar power has greatly benefitted her over the years. What she does not know is that by using clean energy, she is contributing in her little ways to the bigger global agender of climate change mitigation.

“Before the emergence of solar power, we used to hold tight-a bundle of grasses in between our maxillary and mandibular cuspids (upper and lower canine teeth) while mingling food which was very unhygienic since the remains of black particles falling from the burning grasses could fall in the saucepan as you mingle,” Mrs. Okot narrates.

Firewood has for decades been the main source of energy for rural women in Northern Uganda. Recently, solar power, some on loans,
have been of great relief to the women for they now use clean energy and are conserving their environment.

She adds;

“Now that I am 67 years old, solar power has greatly helped me. Before I acquired solar, I used to tie a small torch on my forehead at night when mingling in the kitchen and going for nature call in the latrine or use kerosene lamp. I suffered a lot.  But today, I am saving the money I used to spend on buying torches and part of that money is helping me to pay school fees, buy sugar, and other home stuff.”

Epidemiological studies from National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has linked household kerosene use to impaired lung function, asthma, cancer, and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Mrs. Okot who is asthmatic, narrates with excitement how she abandoned her Kerosene lamp.

“I have been using kerosene lamp for a very long time and it was worsening my health condition since I am asthmatic.  Today, I no longer buy kerosene. Right now, I am constructing a very big house and planning to buy a big solar power system to be installed. I have already started saving in my village savings group for that course,” she says.

Solar power is an alternative to sort emitting kerosene lamps
Mrs Okot charges her solar at her home in Omoro district in March 2022. Solar has been a game changer for rural women in Northern Uganda.
Mrs. Okot testifies to this. Photo/Felista Auma

In Northern Uganda, kerosene lamps are still widely used for lighting especially in rural homes that are not connected to electricity.

But many who have seen the benefit of solar energy for especially lights and phone charging have embraced the change despite their low income. Mrs. Margret Atube, from Lagwiny village, Punena parish, Bungatira Sub- County in Gulu district has been using solar for the last 5 years.

“The rate of theft and other security issues have reduced as well compared to the years I had no solar power. I am majorly using it for lighting and charging.” Mrs. Atube said.

It was common to wait for more than two days before someone in the village can respond to a missed call when there is no electricity in nearby trading centres.

Mrs Okot charging her phone using solar energy. Photo/Felista Auma

Most rural women in Northern Uganda who are using solar acquired them either on loan or from money saved in their village savings groups.

“I have been saving 500 shillings ($0.14) in my small metallic container every day for 8months and that is what I used for buying solar. I therefore, advice fellow women to work hard and acquire solar power even if on loan so that they experience the benefits of using it like I am enjoying now, Mrs. Atube tells FEMJOF-Uganda.

 Others like Ms. Christine Amony a resident of Aywee palami village, Koro sub-county in Omoro district acquired solar on loan from SolarNow Uganda. The 50W and 45ham battery solar is her major source of power.

“I listen to my radio throughout the night. My children watch TV as they wish. It also helps them read their books,” she gladly says.

A child uses solar power to revise her books in Gulu in March 2022
A child uses solar power to revise her books in Gulu in March 2022. Photo/Felista Auma

Her weekly installment was UGX 50,000 ($13.93) to acquire the solar panel.

SolarNow Uganda provides solar energy and financing solutions in East Africa through its subsidiary. It offers solar home systems, electrical appliances, and power solutions that are designed to fit the needs of rural and urban households.

According to Uganda Off-Grid Energy Market Accelerator-UOMA report 2019, Northern Uganda has the lowest grid electrification rate in Uganda. The population predominantly rely on rudimentary off-grid energy sources such as paraffin and firewood—solar usage not as common.

Access to the grid in the region is at 12% (below national average of 14%). A sparse population and the presence of geographic factors such as the River Nile have made it costly for grid extension and as such, the region lags behind in electrification rates.

Firewood and paraffin most common alternative with 90% of households depending heavily on firewood to meet their cooking needs and 70% use paraffin to meet both their cooking & lighting needs. Significantly, there is lower adoption of renewables such as solar in the region.

According to the report, grid electrification rates for households in Northern Uganda stands at 12%, Eastern 19%, Western 25%, and Central 35%.

90% of households in Northern Uganda use firewood, 70% paraffin, 25% charcoal, 9% solar, 2% battery, 2% grid, 2% petrol and 0% gas as sources of energy.

A history of conflict has caused limited economic growth & infrastructural development in Northern Uganda. The region experienced two decades of civil unrest from mid-80’s where people were displaced and lives lost. Consequently, the region has lagged behind in development and today 87% of the population live in rural areas.

Uganda has a  Renewable Energy Policy which seeks to mainstream gender and poverty issues in renewable energy development strategies to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of women and the poor in general.

Globally, an estimated 500 million people commonly use kerosene as fuel for lamps. But new research is bringing the potential health risks of exposure to kerosene combustion products to light.

The clean energy country competitiveness index and online tool, Climatescope, supported by the UK and US governments, looks at clean energy activity in 58 emerging markets including Africa and data released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows that solar had surpassed wind in becoming the cheapest form of new electricity.

Globally, around 1.3 billion people are still said to be without access to electricity. Renewables are helping to address the issue, however, with solar energy again playing a leading role here, particularly with regards to off-grid.

This story was produced with support from the WAN-IFRA African Media Grants

Post Author: admin

We empower. Change Narratives. Sustain
Female Journalists Forum – Uganda (FEMJOF-UGANDA) is a not-for-profit Community Based Organisation run by a group of female journalists in Gulu, Northern Uganda. We train, mentor, coach and counsel female journalists to change the narratives and become tomorrow’s great journalism leaders.

The idea to have a female media organization was established in 2019 when a group of about ten female journalists based in Gulu met and realized the shrinking number of female field journalists and the need to encourage female journalism students to join the newsroom with a purpose.

This dream to have a network and support system of female journalists based in Gulu was realized in 2021 when the organization was officially registered to not only bring together female journalists but advocate for a better working environment for female journalists, TRAIN , mentor, coach and counsel those that need a hand to reach their destiny.

In this, we envisaged better representation of women and female journalists in the media through a broad based approach to storytelling hence changing the traditional narratives of what and who a female journalist is. Currently, we have more than twenty members at different media houses and our mentorship programme at journalism institutions of learning is a step towards increasing this number in the newsrooms.

One Reply to “Solar Power: Better replacement for Kerosene lamps for Rural Women”

  1. This story is very remarkable, it has made me really happy. Finally people are getting to know how women in Nothern Uganda are suffering with the issue of no electricity. However, I am happy to know that through such initiatives electricity through giving out Solar lamps has uplifted very many peoples livelihoods . This is also in the same line with the COP 26 objectives that were set to reduce carbon emissions by reducing on the use of Firewood by the different house holds.

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