Empowering Women Entrepreneurs with Productive Use Equipment Powered by Clean Energy: Prado Power in collaboration with USADF, RMI & Charm Impact, commission Solar Mini-grid and Agro-Processing Hub in Mbiabet Community

In line with our vision to improve energy access and provide sustainable power through clean energy sources to unserved and underserved communities in Nigeria, Prado Power recently commissioned a 20Kw solar-powered mini-grid and an agro-processing hub in Mbiabet community, Akwa Ibom State.

The project was initiated and developed with support from the Akwa Ibom State Government under the Solar Power Naija (SPN) initiative – Nigeria’s Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) aimed at reaching 5 million new solar-based connections in non-grid-connected communities across Nigeria through the Rural Electrification Agency (REA). Prado Power accessed low cost debt funding from Charm Impact UK to facilitate the deployment of the Solar Mini-grid while the agro-processing hub, powered by the mini-grids was supported by the United States African Development Foundation (USADF) through its African Resilience Initiative for Entrepreneurs (ARIE) grant, a Pan-African initiative to provide financial and technical assistance to entrepreneurs who have been impacted by COVID-19.

RMI (founded as Rocky Mountain Institute) supported the project through the Sharing the Power and Energizing Agriculture Programme (EAP) initiatives in Nigeria. The Sharing the Power initiative supports community-centered interventions on minigrid development that can improve system performance while increasing socioeconomic development and empowering minigrid communities. The EAP is co-led by the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency (REA) and seeks to identify, de-risk, and scale market-led business models that pair minigrid communities with equipment and/or services that use power to support local livelihoods.

While the 20KW solar plant, which comes with a 75KWh battery storage, will provide electricity to Mbiabet Community with about 180 connections of residential households and commercial businesses within the community that previously lacked access to grid-connected power sources, the USADF-supported agro-processing hub which was co-developed in partnership with Farm Warehouse is equipped with garri processing machines and a 2 cold storage freezers, as well as a five-wheeler electric haulage cargo tricycle. The processing equipment were entrusted to select women within the Community on a lease to own basis to operate as a business to generate revenue while the amortize the cost of the equipment over a period of 24 months. This was specifically targeted at empowering the women within the Community by presenting them with this efficient agro-processing and cold storage equipment in a bid to ensure affordability and revenue maximization for the women. The equipment will be powered by the solar energy generated from the mini-grid project and will provide efficient agricultural processing to reduce post-harvest loses and increase the market value of their produce after processing thereby generating additional revenue. The model will not only help to create jobs, improve revenue generation, boost the local economy, reduce the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation of farm produce to other communities for processing but is also specifically targeted at providing economic empowerment to women smallholders and SMEs who according to (Bello, Baiyegunhi , Danso-Abbeam, & Ogundeji, 2021), constitute 30 – 80% of the smallholder workforce in Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa and contribute 60 – 80% of the total food production in the region.

The project was officially commissioned by the Executive Director (Technical Services) of the Nigeria Rural Electrification Agency, Mr. Barka Sajou and the Commissioner for Power and Petroleum Resources of Akwa Ibom State, Dr. John Etim in the company of key stakeholders, including Mrs. Valerie Obot – Commissioner and Permanent Secretary of the Akwa-Ibom State Ministry of Power and Petroleum Development, Sascha Flesch, Project Manager, RMI, Engr. David Arinze, Program Officer, Diamond Development Initiatives who are the local implementing Partner of the USADF in Nigeria, Engr Washima Mede, the CEO of Prado Power, Community heads and residents of the Community as the project was received with great excitement by the Community dwellers.

Speaking at the commissioning ceremony, Prado Power’s CEO, Engr. Washima Mede, while expressing gratitude for the support and partnership, highlighted the importance of the project in engendering the productive use of electricity and stimulating agrarian communities to acquire processing equipment that can be electrically powered. According to Washima, Prado Power identified the need to go beyond generating electricity for typical household and business purposes alone, but was inspired to catalyse the productive utilization of electricity through an agric-energy nexus which necessitated the strategic partnership with Farm Warehouse Limited to set-up and operate the agro-processing hubs powered by the Solar mini-grids. He emphasized that this project is capable of creating jobs and increasing economic activities in the community thereby boosting the local economy and Prado Power will be happy to proliferate this model to many other communities within Nigeria while also using it as good opportunity to empower women within the rural communities.

The commissioning and operation of the Mbiabet Solar Mini-grid and Agro-processing hub has positioned the community for inclusive and sustainable development.