Bioenergy in Burkina Faso: A Story from the Field

Food production and agricultural outputs in most African countries have not improved in several decades unlike in Asia where agricultural outputs rose significantly during the same period. The exciting  “Asia to Africa” session of  the Impact Forum in Singapore provided the opportunity to explore some of the factors hindering the potential of African Agriculture.

Asia and Africa rely mostly on their rural farmers for food production, but their context varies significantly. The key problem in Rural Africa remains the access to energy and capital markets, which are critical to modernize agriculture practices and technologies. Similarly, the progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals has been hampered because basic services such as education, health and communication could not be provided with no reliable energy supply.

Our company, Agritech, has been developing Agro-industrial clusters in rural West Africa to address these key problems. One better alternative to energy production is to use solar, biomass and biodiesel in combination to power agriculture and processing of agro-resources. Except for lighting rural homes and schools, solar systems are still too expensive for most rural applications and require imported equipments. They add little value in terms of local job creation, manufacturing capabilities and technology transfer. Sustainable energy programs from biomass and biodiesel create long term value within the rural communities when implemented sensibly. Using agriculture waste and intercropping to produce energy provides additional income for the farmers as well. Biodiesel is well adapted as a fuel for tractors and water pumps, providing the opportunity to mechanize farming while power generation from biomass allows for processing and storing agro resources. The cluster effect is an inclusive strategy providing sustainable opportunities and making the rural communities responsible for their social progress and the delivery of the critical services they need.

In the current context of climate change, the introduction of simple technologies such as drip irrigation to make the optimal use of water and fertilizers is critical for sustainability. However, the access to financing in rural Africa remains as the other significant barrier for the implementation of theses technologies to foster the potential to push so many out of poverty. Professor Yunus, during the forum opening session, mentioned that the opportunity of access to financing for rural farmers would be realized when the need for collateral is removed. Today, this is not the case in most African countries and this simple fact defying gravity cannot (or does not want to) be understood by the decision-makers and the finance community. We are yet to realize that universal access to financing is not charity but the opportunity for millions of rural farmers to break out of poverty.

In the current situation, Impact Investment funds remains as the only light to achieving extensive transformation and sustainable growth for rural farmers in Africa. We foresee that impact finance for rural farmers can unlock Africa’s potential as a providential source for global food security. “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.”

By William Kwende, Agritech