Kalom — A new power plant in the eastern Senegalese village of Kalom is generating more than just electricity. Powered by agricultural waste, the station has lit up homes, lightened women's domestic burdens and even put a little money in some residents' pockets.
The 32 kilowatt generator, which uses groundnut shells and dried millet stalks for fuel, was built with 245,000 dollars of funding from DEG (the German Investment Corporation) and German municipal power company Stadtwerke Mainz.
The local midwife, Ami Mbaye, is delighted to have electric lights in the village. She used to rely on storm lanterns when attending a birth at night, but with power in the health centre, it's much easier to care for patients.
"It wasn't easy for us to work at night. Now we don't have any problems. But we do need the government to install some additional equipment to make us more effective," she told IPS.
"Everyone used to pay 100 CFA francs per device to charge our cellphone batteries," said Abdoulaye Faye, a teacher in Kalom. "We would give them to a young guy who would take them to the closest town, Fatick, more than 20 kilometres away. Then you had to wait a week to get them back. Now we just charge them at home."
Faye said the farm residue that was previously useless has become a source of income. "You get paid at least 125 CFA francs per kilo, depending on the quality of the waste - so collecting waste is keeping people busy, especially young people. I do it sometimes too."
Almami N'Diaye, who runs the plant, says that to begin with, it will generate only 15 percent of its total capacity.
"To light up the village for a week, we need three tonnes of shells and millet chaff. We're not lacking in fuel because the villagers have the habit of saving these residues (after the harvest)," he told IPS.
François Sène, a farmer from the village, told IPS that since the power plant started working, he and his family have been going out every day looking for fuel for the plant.
"You can earn 5,000 CFA (around 9.50 dollars) a day. So after we finish on our own farm, I go out with my two wives and five sons to see what farm waste we can find before coming home. It's a blessing to earn a little money like this ..."
Wolla Ndiaye, a senator and resident of the village, said that each house pays for its consumption, depending on the number of bulbs and electrical appliances it uses, and the price per kilowatt-hour is 250 CFA (around 47 cents).
"All 1,300 residents living on the village's 115 stands (lots) are connected to the grid, except for three houses that are still under construction. And more than 80 percent of the power generated is not (yet) being used."
But Ndiaye explained that in order to cover the monthly operating costs of the plant - which vary between 95 and 115 dollars - it will be important for the 15 other villages in the surrounding area to be connected to the power station.
During a visit to Kalom, the Senegalese minister for energy and mines, Aly Ngouille Ndiaye, promised to look into how the plant can be linked to adjoining areas. He promised to take up the question of transmission to neighbouring villages with the Senegalese Agency for Rural Electrification.
"Not only do you have the right to enjoy electricity just like people in the city," the minister told villagers," but as someone with rural roots myself, I know how lacking electricity can hinder development."
According to Alioune Diouf, head of monitoring for the National Biogas Programme at the energy ministry, the government initiated the programme in Senegal in 2006, with the objective of ensuring the sustainable supply of peri-urban and rural households with energy for lighting and cooking.
"Waste-based electricity generation projects were also launched in 2008 in the Kaolack, Fatick, Ziguinchor and Kolda regions," said Diouf. He told IPS that 325 biodigesters were set up in these regions in the western and southern parts of the country between June 2010 and mid-2012.
"We envisage (building) around 8,000 between now and 2013," said Diouf.