The mountain kingdom of Lesotho has an estimated population of 1.953 million with more than 70% living in rural communities.  Rural communities rely mainly on pastoralism and migrant labour for livelihoods.

Despite the roll out of Phase 1 of the “Lesotho Highlands Water Project” (including the “Muela Hydropower Station” which generates 72 mega watts of hydroelectricity) only just over 27% of the population have access to electricity.  Many rural communities still rely on fuel wood and candles for domestic energy needs.

Candles remain the most popular way to light homes. At a cost of approximately R3.00 per candle this places a great financial burden on households, locking them into a negative debt spiral.

Cooking is another vital energy need. Communities rely on collected fuel wood and paraffin burners. The use of these resources has a triple negative effect on communities. Because a large portion of Lesotho is above the tree line it is a relatively marginal land with already limited fuel wood.

Overgrazing and unsustainable agricultural practices have reduced vegetation to alarming degrees in certain areas.

The need for fuel wood places further pressure on natural resources, and contributes to erosion, desertification and deforestation. Health implications of burning fuel wood and paraffin range from eye problems and lung disease to poisoning and injury all contributing to fatalities each year.

Finally, burning of fuel wood contributes to pollution and climate change through the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

There is however a proverbial ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel. SunFire Solutions is tackling energy and sustainability needs by introducing solar technologies into rural households.

Cooperatives have saving schemes to raise funds for communal assets such as solar cooking equipment and also for domestic lighting solutions. SunFire is working with the private sector to make solar technologies more accessible to rural communities.

Simple solar lighting gadgets are replacing traditional wax candles. Solar candles and mini home systems provide an easy to use and cost effective replacement.  A set of two solar candles can be recharged using the provided panels. The batteries last for approximately 20 hours and have a life span of up to two years, resulting in a saving of over R4000.00 for the same time period.

Using a mix of parabolic cookers, efficient burners and heat retaining equipment has many benefits. Communities no longer have to spend hours collecting sparse fuel wood, which saves them time and alleviates the pressure on natural resources.

Because parabolic cookers concentrate the suns energy to produce heat no greenhouse gases are emitted, benefiting both human and environmental health.  Efficient burners, while still using fuel wood, drastically reduce smoke production and the amount of fuel consumed.

All that is needed is to bring the item to the boil and then place it in a heat retaining bag for it to continue cooking for several hours.

Initiatives such as these provide practical and implementable solutions for energy needs at a grassroots level, while tackling several of the Sustainable Development Goals simultaneously.

Rebecca Henderson