The first steps of forming a new electric cooperative have begun. This time, in Maji, a small town in Southwestern Ethiopia with 700 families. Surrounding the town are 22 kebeles, or small farming communities where about 4800 families live. Each kebele is about an hour from each other. Electricity is scarce, available only to the very few in town, who can afford generators.
“The families here depend almost exclusively on farming for their income,” said Nick Allen, NRECA International’s country director for Ethiopia. “There is no irrigation system, and farmers depend on enough rain to grow and harvest their crops. Private investments in this area are rare because this area is remote and basic infrastructure like roads and electricity does not exist.”
A US-based non-profit – the Maji Development Coalition (MDC), launched a plan earlier this year to provide solar home systems on a lease-to-own basis to the people in Maji and the surrounding communities. So far, 100 have been installed, making it possible for families to use light bulbs, charge their mobile phones, and plug in a radio or television. To ensure sustainability and steady growth of electricity access to the community, MDC requested NRECA International’s support.
“Maji is about 80 kilometers from the national electric grid and the situation will likely remain the same for many more years,” said Allen. “We can help MDC and the community by establishing an electric co-op to provide maintenance and operational support of the solar home systems and provide future co-op members with an opportunity to buy solar home systems of their own.”
Initially, the NRECA International team will offer training to the new co-op staff who will eventually gain experience to managing the operations of the co-op through providing maintenance of the home solar systems. Learn more about our cooperative development work
GET POWER TO THE PEOPLE FIRST
MDC founder Caroline Kurtz lived in Maji with her missionary parents from the age of five, until she was 15. She currently lives in Oregon and returns to Maji regularly to visit her friends, and to also help the community. Over the last year, her efforts have been to bring electricity.
“The people in Maji face darkness when the sun goes down,” said Kurtz. “For years I studied NRECA International’s innovative model for off-grid development, and feasibility studies of unelectrified towns like Maji. With all their engineering and rural electric co-op experience, I’m very glad we’re collaborating and moving forward to making a lasting impact in Maji.”
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION
Public awareness activities are underway to inform the people on the intention to form an electric co-op. The people in Maji and several nearby communities recently voted for NRECA International to proceed.
“The electrification of Maji with the cooperative business model will give us an opportunity to learn how best to roll out similar projects to the rest of Ethiopia,” said Allen.
Allen and his team will proceed with the legal process to form an electric co-op and continue establishing and increasing awareness within the community about what an electric co-op is, and how this will benefit them. Stay tuned for updates!
BUILDING AND STRENGTHENING COOPERATIVES AROUND THE WORLD
Since 1962 NRECA International has helped form 250 power utilities – majority of which are electric cooperatives. The team continues to be the leading experts in building and strengthening electric co-ops around the world to help communities receive affordable and reliable electricity. Check out the team’s involvement with cooperatives in: