Ndolwane community reaps solar project benefits The pilot project of Re-Imagine Rural Ugesi mini-grids in Ndolwane, Plumtree

Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
THE Ndolwane community, deep in rural Bulilima District in Matabeleland South, about 92 km out of Plumtree Town, has started reaping the benefits of a 100 kilowatt (KW) solar power project recently rolled out by Econet’s Ugesi Energy.

Businessman and philanthropist, Dr Strive Masiyiwa, through the “Re-Imagine Rural” initiative, recently completed the massive solar power project as part of his new rural electrification scheme targeting at least 10 growth points across the country.

Ndolwane was chosen as the pilot project of Re-Imagine Rural Ugesi mini-grids.

So far, Ugesi Energy has connected power to Ndolwane Primary School, about 10 shops at the business centre and Ndolwane Rural Health Centre including a handful of farmers involved in poultry projects, which the company is jointly funding with Turning Matabeleland Green (TMG). Ugesi Energy has already partnered with TMG and trained at least 50 communal farmers in Ndolwane on commercial production under the initiative being spearheaded by Hamara Group.

Although the beneficiaries of the solar power project in Ndolwane are currently enjoying free electricity, plans are underway to install smart meters with the configuration for purposes of billing expected to be completed this week.

The training covered aspects such as linkages between small-scale farmers and corporate partners, harnessing support to farmers, provision of good quality inputs, technical support, training and accessing markets.

Chronicle on Wednesday visited Ndolwane Business Centre where the solar power project is located and spoke to selected farmers, traditional leaders and members of the business community on how they have benefitted from the project.

Ms Simangaliso Khupe, a communal farmer said the solar project has tremendously helped her in terms of improving her horticulture project.

“This a very good project, which came at the right time. I am a farmer who does market gardening and I grow tomatoes, vegetables and butternuts and these require a lot of water and luckily this area has been blessed with fertile soils, but the major challenge is water,” she said.

“Now that we have solar power at our disposal, it means there will be increased productivity in terms of market gardening since most farmers will be able to use solar powered boreholes to water their crops,” she said.

Ms Khupe is also a beneficiary of the TMG/Ugesi Energy poultry project. She recently took her 800 chickens to the market.

“I also do poultry project and electricity is essential in this business since chicks need a lot of light and warmth. The availability of solar power has made my life easier and this will also increase productivity and just a few weeks ago I took 800 chickens to the market,” she said.

Mr Ian Matiwaza, a former local councillor, said the availability of solar has brought a smile to the local community, which had been cut off in terms of access to information and news as people will now be able to watch local television news and listen to the radio.

Mr Matiwaza said the dream of turning Matabeleland green will soon become a reality due to the availability of solar power.

“This project came unexpectedly and when it was rolled out, we had no idea how it was going to change our lives. Here we are now, enjoying the benefits of the solar power brought to us and as an avid farmer, I am already planning to buy equipment so that I can be able to pump more water using a powered borehole system,” he said.

“We have a lot of aquifer water lying underground, which can be harnessed and now that we have solar power at our disposal, it is now possible to turn Matabeleland green.”

Mr Matiwaza said due to their proximity to the border, about 75 percent of their children cross to either Botswana or South Africa to look for menial jobs.

He however, expressed hope that with the solar power project, there would be employment creation for youths.

“Our hope is that more jobs will be created and there won’t be a need for our children to unnecessarily cross our borders to look for employment. We have the land and failure is not an option with solar power as we will be able to do more in terms of market gardening and other farming projects,” said Mr Matiwaza.

Ms Christine Ndlovu who operates a hair salon at the business centre said the solar power project has helped through minimising operational costs.

“We have been paying more through buying gas, which is not only expensive, but also a risky source of power. We had to travel to Plumtree town to buy gas and paying R100 for a single trip,” she said.

“This solar power project has really helped us as we now have access to affordable electricity.”

Mr Tsholiwa Matiwaza, who has been operating a bottle store at the business centre for the past 10 years said he used a generator for his business and fuel was expensive and difficult to source.

Solar power had made his life easier.

“It was quite costly given that we would depend on gas, especially in my case since I operate a bar where you are supposed to keep soft drinks and beer refrigerated. Before this project was brought to us, I used a generator to power television, refrigerators and lighting and it meant I had to buy fuel every week and it was quite costly. This project has really made life easier for us in business,” he said.

Senior village head Ms Busiwe Sibindi said the project will generate employment and economically empower local communities.

Ugesi Energy general manager Ms Katrina Amadasun said they were targeting to connect more households in Ndolwane.

“The mini grid is fully functional with power reaching farmer households and businesses since March. Battery storage is available and supplying power at night,” she said.

“By powering the school, the hospital and the business centre, a community of 1 200 households would have been empowered. So far only a handful of farmers, mostly women, have had access to the poultry project and they reared about 9 000 birds from free input under the programme,” said Ms Amadasun.

“The farming programme was disrupted by the Covid-19, but is ongoing with more farmers earmarked to benefit from the poultry and horticulture projects.”

Ms Amadasun said Ndolwane is the first Ugesi Energy mini-grid project in Zimbabwe and also the first of its kind with Negari in Mwenezi District, Masvingo being the next in line.

At least 10 mini grids have been lined up under the same programme. She said they were expanding the power grid to reach a 10km radius.

Ms Sibonginkosi Tshuma, the area’s agricultural extension supervisor, said the local communal farmers will also use the power to irrigate market gardens to produce vegetables among other produce.

“Ndolwane Community Garden, which is currently been developed on a 1,5 hectare piece of land, will be connected to the grid. We are planning to grow different horticultural crops so that we increase the income per household and the project is being sponsored by Oxfam International and we have 50 beneficiaries,” she said.

Bulilima West legislator Cde Dingumuzi Phuti said the solar project will also assist water abstraction from the Ramokgwebana River to the hospital and other projects around Ndolwane.

“It’s an exciting project and a first of its kind and people are so excited including businesses, which are connected now. It will also facilitate Ndolwane being modernised to a proper service centre which should have modern houses and modern planning,” Cde Phuti said. — @mashnets

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