Ms. Margaret Alobo, a 52-year-old resident of Labongo-Akwang in Kitgum district bought solar by paying in installment from Ready Pay solar company outlet in the district.
Ms Alobo, a farmer, used her savings from selling farm produce and borrowing from her village saving group to make monthly instalment payments of Shs24,000 ($6.9).If she did not have the full amount for that month, the solar company allowed her to deposit Shs10,000 ($2.9), less than half the installment amount per month.
The goal of the solar company was to enable rural communities and women like Ms Alobo have access to clean and affordable solar energy payable on loan.
“When I bought the light, one of my neighbors asked me how I got it and asked me to link her to the sellers. Many people in the area started coming to me to give them the contacts of the sellers and I would call the sellers and they bring for them,” Ms Alobo tells FEMJOF-Uganda.
Before buying the solar, Ms Alobo had trouble charging her phone and had to move several kilometers looking for someone with solar power to charge her phone, at a cost of Shs500.
One day, Ms Alobo listened to a radio talk show about the benefits of using solar, and that she could acquire one at a cost of Shs670,000 (about $191) and pay by installment.
In 2017, Ms Alobo says she started paying for her 10-Watt solar panel and completed the payment in three years. She now uses it to light her house, compound, and charge her phone.
Uganda lies at the equator, making it one of the hottest countries in Africa. This provides an important element needed to power solar light. Kitgum district is among the hottest districts in Uganda with temperatures going as high as 38 degrees celsius during the dry season.Most residents who have seen the benefits of using solar continue to acquire on loan and this has greatly reduced the use of crude sources of energy like kerosene lamps for lighting.
Ms Alobo, an advocate for solar usage has become an ad hoc agent of the company that loans solar panels.Her neighbour, Ms Alice Acan sought advice from her on how to acquire a solar panel four years ago. She feels relieved after owning solar power for lighting her home. Ms. Acan says she used to spend a minimum of 2,000 Ugandan shillings weekly to buy half a liter of paraffin to power her kerosene lamp.
Ms. Acan also lives in Apwoyo Village, Pajimo Parish, Labongo Akwang sub-county in Kitgum district-8 kilometers away from Kitgum municipality. Each time she needed a refill of her paraffin container, she had to make a list of other items to buy, so that the 10,000 shillings for transport to town and back, does not seem like a waste.
“If I did not have transport to town, I had to look for any neighbor going to town to help me buy paraffin. There was nowhere else nearby where we could buy paraffin,” Ms. Acan says.
In rural Uganda, the amount in transport cost that Ms. Acan used to look for fuel to light her house can feed someone for two days, going by statistics from the World Bank of each Ugandan living on 1.90 dollars a day.
This meant Ms. Acan had to devise a more hazardous alternative, using dry grass to light her hut.“Dry grass is even more dangerous. One day I almost burnt down my two grass thatched huts because of using dry grass for lighting.” Ms Acan narrates.
She adds;“I lighted the dry grass and was moving backwards with other things in one hand and the fire caught a piece of paper by the door. I was lucky because other people who were seated outside saw the fire and hurried to put it off.”
Electricity is among the major provisions of modern life, and a society aiming at growing fast in all sectors.
Clean and renewable energy is believed to have the potential to reduce the reliance on wood fuel for cooking, hence saving the environment and women from dangerous smoke.
Besides, the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 set 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal number seven aims at ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.
However, just like Ms. Acan, many rural dwellers in Northern Uganda, and most parts of Uganda are not connected to electricity.
Although the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, UBOS, National Statistical Abstract of 2020 indicates that more than 1.5 million people got connected to electricity in 2019, compared to 1.3 million people in 2018, the report notes that 28 percent of Ugandans are still not accessing electricity.
This percentage, especially of those in rural settings has for long been relying on soot-emitting lights such as candles and kerosene lamps. Because of the near-tragic accident due to using dry grass for lighting, most women in the rural areas like Ms. Acan decided to buy a small solar lamp, to save them the numerous travels to town, and eliminate the soot prints that the dry grass and kerosene lamps leave on their health.
The 2021 Kitgum District Local Government Achievement report, confirms that there has been a rise in the use of solar power in the district in the last five years.
According to the report, 13,188 households were by the end of 2020 using solar power for light, compared to only 2,041 households surveyed and found to be using solar power in 2016.
The 2019/2020 Uganda National Household Survey report also shows more reliance on solar than electricity. According to the data, only 2.3 percent of households in Acholi are connected to the electricity grid, while 2.8 percent have a solar home system and 27 percent have a solar kit.
This story was produced with support from WAN-IFRA African Media Grants.