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Tea farmers set to gain from cheaper solar solutions

From left: Barefoot Power chief (Kenya) Jackson Machuhi, Kenya Tea Development Agency Foundation manager Jaki Mathaga, and Barefoot Power chief executive officer Rick Hooper during the launch of a partnership between the two firms to provide solar lighting solutions to small holder tea growers in Kenya. Photo/SALATON NJAU
From left: Barefoot Power chief (Kenya) Jackson Machuhi, Kenya Tea Development Agency Foundation manager Jaki Mathaga, and Barefoot Power chief executive officer Rick Hooper during the launch of a partnership between the two firms to provide solar lighting solutions to small holder tea growers in Kenya. Photo/SALATON NJAU  

A global solar energy firm has entered into a $100 million deal with Kenya Tea Development Authority to provide solar lighting solutions to small holder tea growers in the country.

The partnership with Barefoot Power targets over 500,000 tea farmers in areas not covered by electricity with interest free loans to enable them afford solar powered lamps.

KTDA foundation boss Jaki Mathaga said that more than Sh8.5 million worth of solar products have already been provided by Barefoot Power to be loaned to tea farmers in four catchment areas in a pilot phase.

“We are targeting the bottom of the pyramid with 1,500 households in the pilot phase in Tharaka Nthi, Meru, Imenti and Litein counties,” she said during the signing of the partnership.

Barefoot Power chief executive officer, Rick Hooper said that the firm intends to partner with more institutions so as to easily reach the right market. KTDA, for instance has over 60 tea factories and 500,000 farmers.

A new report by World Bank-funded Lighting Africa programme, projects that the continent is set to become the world’s largest market for off-grid lamps with up to 140 million people being targeted by 2015.

Statistics from the programme show that sales of solar powered lamps in Kenya grew by 242 per cent in 2013 compared to 2012, reaching 500,000 people.

In 2010, only 23,000 solar lamps were in use in the country but the adoption rate has been growing and Lighting Africa now projects 700,000 people would be covered this year.

“Institutional sales have taken up 46 per cent of the distribution model since it provides low income earners an easy way to purchase the gadgets,” said Arthur Itotia of the Lighting Africa programme.

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