Notes from the Field: Illuminating Opportunities for Energy Poor Communities

solar light and clean cookstove Honduras
Cooking by the light of a new solar lamp (Photo by Darren Mahuron).

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Over the past year, our Solar Energy Program has grown considerably, and we are now importing product for distribution in four countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.  Funding from Catapult.org has enabled us to make a bulk purchase of 1,000 household solar lighting systems, the Barefoot Power Connect 600, both for commercial resale and as samples to our growing network of distributors throughout Central America.  Of the 1,000 units, 600 were sent to Honduras where we have 125 individual vendors and 20 institutional distributors representing our product line in rural communities.  This product arrives perfectly timed for promotion during the holiday season, which also corresponds with the yearly agricultural harvest.

Meeting with community members is an important part of project implementation.
Meeting with community members helps us to implement successful projects.

I recently spent four weeks touring the regions of Honduras in which we have distributed product since January 2012, and had the opportunity to interview dozens of customers who are benefiting from the clean renewable energy that we’ve made available to them.  There are tailors that can work longer hours, rural shops that can stay open later, students that can study long after dark, kids who don’t have to be afraid of going to the outdoor latrine in the dark, and hundreds of women who don’t have to breathe the toxic smoke from kerosene or wood splinter ocote candles when they rise before dawn to begin their daily routine.  By all indications, we saw that this was a project that needed to be expanded aggressively.

Risks and Challenges

Every ambitious project has its unique set of challenges and lessons to be learned.  We have seen manufacturers increase their prices as they bring new products on line, we have expanded our geographic reach to serve four countries instead of just one, and we have re-routed our supply chain to import in bulk through a central location (in this case through a free-trade zone in El Salvador). We have learned lessons every step of the way.

Next Steps

Currently, we have formalized our approach even further by registering a wholly owned subsidiary of Trees, Water & People, called Luciérnaga (‘firefly’ in Spanish), that will manage all of the supply chain related parts of the business.  Our goal is to be able to purchase larger quantities of product and to make our supply chain more efficient, providing our customers with the best value possible.  We are generating employment, new income streams, and clean energy for Central American families, and we plan on continuing to grow our operation to the benefit of tens of thousands of families.

luciernaga logo black

To learn more please visit our website or email Sebastian Africano at sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org.

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treeswaterpeople

Trees, Water & People is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to developing sustainable community-based conservation solutions.

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