HIMALAYA, Mutare South — Knowledge Matsauke does even the little things the hard way. When he wants to call friends and relatives, he climbs up to the summit of the Himalaya Mountain to get a mobile phone signal.
BY TATENDA CHITAGU
Getting to the area, in village seven, Mutare South, takes more than two hours for the 65km distance. The road is very bad and one has to negotiate carefully through the slopping and meandering stretch between the rugged terrain.
At first glimpse, there is no sign of life, save for the majestic landscape and magnificent view of plumes of mist from the interlocked mountains in this far-flung rural outpost.
But when the father of two wants to recharge his cellphone or grind his maize, he simply goes to the energy centre, a stone’s throw away from his homestead.
“We can’t have it all. We have some things, we don’t have others. But we are glad we have electricity here. And there are no power outages here as is the case in cities nowadays,” he says.
The power there is generated from the 80-kilowatt Himalaya micro hydro project funded by the European Union (EU) to the tune of $2,2 million under the five year Catalysing Modern Energy Service Delivery to Marginal Communities in Southern Africa programme.
The Himalaya hydropower project was established in 2011 after the successful implementation of another hydro project, Chipendeke.
The projects are part of the sustainable-energy-for-all initiative partnering Hivos, Zimbabwe Regional Environment Organisation (ZERO), Practical Action and the Zimbabwe Energy Council (Zec) to ensure that the United Nations goal for achieving universal modern energy access by 2030 is achieved.
The micro hydro project, which supplies villagers with water for irrigation and electricity, is like an oasis to the 3 000 villagers sparsely populated in the thick woods.
It generates electricity from water pumped from the nearby Chatora River, which flows perennially and has never dried even in the worst of droughts.
“We grow crops all-year round and we have managed to raise fees for our kids. We also have nutritional gardens and we do not need to go to Mutare to buy some greens. Instead, buyers come here to purchase our market gardening stuff,” he says as he stretches his hand to show 14 hectares devoted to green mealies, tomatoes, onions, peas and other vegetables where they also run as a cooperative named Simbengadzibve Irrigation scheme.
The hydro project also generates electricity for a sawmill which has improved the livelihoods of the villagers who also run a thriving gumtree plantation as a co-operative.
Himalaya irrigation scheme secretary-general Eutotias Chirara says the hydro project has spurred the community into forming irrigation, a plantation as well as a grinding mill and saw mill co-operatives that give them money for their upkeep.
“Our access to energy has helped us start an irrigation co-operative, a sawmill cooperative as well as a grinding mill run by the community. Our lives have changed for the better and we are very grateful for the project,” he says.
A pensioner from the area, Denis Mahoyo, whose house has its lights powered from the project, said although they cannot use stoves as the power is not sufficient, they have been spared from buying paraffin or candles.
“I can now watch news on my television set and need not to guess what is happening around the country. I also have been saved from buying candles or paraffin as I used to do,” he said.
So far, 50 houses have been connected to the power grid although the project can handle 200 households.
Hivos Project manager for Green Society Reginald Mapfumo said access to sustainable renewable energy is a key factor in ending poverty and achieving other development goals.
“Energy access is the nexus to development. For us to ensure food security by increasing agricultural productivity at household level, we have to harness sustainable, renewable clean energy for irrigation rather than wait for rain-fed agriculture which is no longer dependable because of the effects of climate change,” Mapfumo said.
He called on other stakeholders to chip in and invest in sustainable energy projects countrywide.
Chipendeke Primary School and Chipendeke Clinic have also been electrified and authorities said this has improved health delivery as well as the pass rates.
“Our pass rates improved drastically after we were connected, thanks to the project. It shot up from 29% in 2011 to 42% last year and we attribute this to night studies as you know some parents cannot afford candles for their children to read at night.
“The availability of electricity also makes teaching easy as pupils have a practical appreciation of some of the things being taught, like types of power. Remember this is a remote area which is deprived of many things but when you show them hydropower in their backyard, it is easy for them to understand,” said Chipendeke Primary School head, Law Ganya.
Sister-in-charge at Chipendeke clinic, Lynette Chiwamba, said the infant mortality rate at the institution dropped because pregnant women no longer have candle-lit deliveries at night.
“In most cases children were born in an unsafe environment because of inadequacies here and one of those is the provision of reliable light at night. Apart from the clinic, the drudgery among women and exposure to smoke has been reduced thus avoidance of diseases,” she said.
Out of Zimbabwe’s 12,5 million population, more than 70% live in rural outskirts and have no access to modern energy, with only 19% of the total population accessing electricity, according to Zimstat figures.
Fuel wood continued to dominate the national energy supply with most of the energy supply drawn from fuel wood (53%), coal (20%), liquid fuels (14%) and electricity (13%).
The country launched the National Energy Policy in 2012 to guide the implementation of projects in various sub-sectors, with the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority having been established to ensure a level playing field for all players in the energy sector.