Senegal: Farming with Windmills

26 August 2002

Mboro, Senegal — Ahead of the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, allAfrica.com's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton travelled to the farming village of Mboro, in Senegal, 150 kilometres outside the capital, Dakar.

In Mboro, a team has set up a renewable energy pilot project - to help the rural agricultural population protect its environment. A giant windmill, known as a wind turbine, powers a cold storage room, and the two projects are funded by the Global Environment Facility.

The idea is to reduce local reliance on generators for irrigation or petrol for electricity. The community also hopes for an end to the massive wastage of vegetables and fish that rots because there's no appropriate cooling chamber.

One of the people responsible for the Mboro project is Pape Momar Ngom, a Senegalese electro-mechanical engineer, who is also the general secretary of 'Asera', a non-governmental organisation working in renewable energy and rural development. He told Ofeibea Quist-Arcton about his project in Mboro and its objectives.

My name is Pape Momar Ngom. I'm an electro-mechanical engineer and I am the general-secretary of Asera, an association working in renewable energy and rural development.

Our aim is to help the rural population to have energy in order to develop activities where they can get money. These activities, we hope, will earn them a lot of money, because we know that in rural areas, women, for example, use twelve hours a day for physical activities just to produce food for their families. They don't have time to develop projects or activities to increase their incomes.

So how are you helping these women?

There are a lot of ways. In Asera, my association, we decided to help them have more energy, because we know that they could do all the physical activities they do more easily and in less time if they had the right energy.

And here you are not talking about their own physical energy, but energy from outside, powered from elsewhere?

We decided to bring energy because, in rural areas, for example, the government cannot do it because of the distance. So we decided to bring clean energy, renewable energy - solar energy and wind energy using a wind turbine.

A wind turbine is like a wind-propelled, modern windmill?

Yes, a wind turbine is a device that uses the speed of the wind. The blades turn and power a generator and this generator produces electricity. And with this electricity they can do what they want.

And this is all renewable energy?

Yes it is renewable energy, because we already have wind, and also for solar energy. Senegal has very good sunlight and you can use solar energy as you like. You cannot finish the sunshine or the wind! Wherever you are in Senegal you can use renewable energy in a continuous way. That's why we decided to bring this form of energy to the rural areas.

We're in a village called Mboro, please tell us where exactly it is in Senegal.

Mboro is a rural community in the region of Thies. It is on the coast named Niayes, which runs in a band from Dakar to Saint Louis on the coast. The characteristic of the Niayes is the development of farms, horticulture and fishing. Also the wind is very good from Dakar to Saint Louis. That's why the capacity to use wind energy in this area is very, very, very big. It's not exploited now, so we decided to use this capacity to bring a lot of energy to the rural areas.

So what are the projects you are running concurrently in Mboro?

We have two projects funded by the Global Environment Facility. It is to help the population to have energy and to protect the environment. We know that the population in this area uses generators for irrigation, for example, or petrol for lighting. And you know that these are not good for the environment. So these projects help them to protect the global environment as well as developing activities.

The project here is to implement a wind turbine, with a four-kilowatt capacity, to power a cooling chamber. The cooling chamber is used to store the agricultural and fishing produce. There is a very big need here in this area, because people do not have energy so they cannot store their product. Often they lose their produce because of this.

Are you saying there is a lot of wastage because they cannot chill their fish and vegetables?

It is a problem. For example in fishing, every year we lose 40 billion CFA Francs (US$59.3m) because there is no cold storage infrastructure. About 50 percent of the agricultural produce is lost because there are not appropriate cold storage facilities. So our aim is to install this cooling chamber, with power supplied by wind energy.

We chose wind energy because the government has many plans to install cold chambers along the coast, but the problem is that they don't have electricity in this area. So, with wind energy, we can have electricity to supply the cooling chamber. So the project is a pilot project and we have installed a cold store room, but not a big one.

It may not be very big, but it's certainly freezing in there. It's very cold!

It can go as low as minus 10 degrees, which is just right for fish, for vegetables you need about 6 degrees. The chamber is functioning right now. It isn't yet in use, because we need to train the local people how to use it. But it's working normally.

So the cold store isn't yet being used?

We should be able to start very soon. But we have done a lot of tests and we know that the technology and installation is good enough for it to be used by the population.

This is a pilot project that you're showing me, but are you confident that once it comes into use by local farmers and the local people, it will work?

Yes, I'm very confident that it will work, because the technology itself is not complicated. In Senegal we have known cooling chambers for a long time and we know wind energy; the combination is perhaps new, but it is not complicated. And we have good technicians who are trained in this technology and the installation and the tests have been done by them and I am optimistic that the local population can easily use this technology. It is very simple, without a lot of electronic devices.

All the technology is mechanical. If you train just one person in the village for just two or three months, then this person can easily cope with the technology. So the strategy is to install the technology and the concept, a cooling chamber supplied by wind energy or a water pump supplied by wind energy. You take one or two local people in this village, you train them in how to efficiently work the technology and then after two or three months our technician can go, leaving the population to it.

You're a young Senegalese electro-mechanical engineer. Sustainable development is obviously close to your heart and here you are setting up projects that will hopefully make life easier for women and other people in the rural areas. On the eve of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, what are your hopes?

My hope is that... First of all, in Senegal, we are a developing country and we have a lot of problems in the rural areas. Thirty percent of people in Senegal are poor because they do not have the infrastructure and equipment to assist in development. But we also have a lot of expertise and engineers, so we think a lot about this problem and how to solve it. And we have a lot of projects and strategies that we have discussed with the government for Senegal's participation in Johannesburg at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Our aim, our hope, is to have concrete commitments from the developed countries.

Rich countries like the United States?

Yes, the United States, European Union etc, in order to set up all our projects for sustainable development in Senegal. We don't want to have declarations from the rich people that 'we will help you', as we have heard at other meetings. We want, and hope we will have, concrete plans on debt with figures, showing how in the next few years, we will be able to improve our development concretely.

Now, you mentioned the Kyoto Protocol [the international treaty mandating cuts in greenhouse gases to protect the climate and environment and reduce global warming].

Yes, the Kyoto Protocol is a chance for a country such as Senegal.

Please explain what you mean by that.

If the protocol is ratified and comes into force, we can have funds and investment from the rich people in our countries, in Africa and developing countries in general to help us improve our development. We hope that at this summit in Johannesburg, the protocol can be ratified.

But there is the problem of the United States refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol or rather, reneging on the agreement and dropping out.

Yes, the most important problem is the United States. But you know if 55 percent of the countries in Annexe 1 ratify the protocol, then it should go through. So, if the European Union and Canada and Russia do ratify the Kyoto Protocol, then we will reach 55 percent and the United States will have to follow. Then the protocol would come into force.

But concretely what difference will the Kyoto Protocol make to Africa?

The Kyoto Protocol is a treaty, which was agreed by the international community to protect the environment. You know the rich countries, such as the United States, Canada, the European Union nations and Russia - they are the countries that do most damage and destroy the environment.

Now everyone has to reduce greenhouse gases. The industrialised nations have to cut emissions of greenhouse gases to below 1990 levels by 2008-2012.

They know that they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their own countries, but the mechanism of Kyoto allows them to reduce the emissions in the developing countries.

So a country like France, for example, can come to Senegal and invest in a 'clean' project, in our project, for example. This project would help the government of Senegal reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Now that reduction will be credited to France and France will be seen to have reduced its emissions by x percent.

In return, Senegal will have development infrastructure. This is the CDM, the Clean Development Mechanism, and it is a chance for Africa and other developing countries. If the protocol is ratified, all the rich countries have an obligation to invest a lot in Africa.

To make Africa cleaner?

To make Africa cleaner and to respect their commitments. The result for Africa will be less the cleaning of the environment, and more the development of our countries. We will have a lot of investment in infrastructure, in energy, in agriculture, in forestry and with all this we will protect our environment and the global environment. If we reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Senegal, it is the same as if you've reduced it in Johannesburg or the United States. So this protocol allows these countries to reduce the emissions in whichever country they want.

They know that the capacity to reduce these emissions is in the developing world, because they have reduced to a level of industry that means they cannot now reduce their emissions. And if they cannot reduce industrial production, they will not be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So, it is an opportunity for both the rich and poor countries. But the problem is that the United States is big on forestry. Because if you plant trees, they produce and emit oxygen and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, and the US knows that it has a lot of wooded areas and forestry. So America wants the Kyoto Protocol to include these forested areas. And if their proposal is accepted, they will not be obliged to invest in energy and agriculture elsewhere, they will only invest in their country.

Also, we know that President Bush was in the petrol business. And it's not good for the politicians in the United States, that's why they have refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. But we hope that with Canada, Russia and eventually Japan, if they all agree we will reach the necessary 55 percent quorum and the protocol will come into force.

Well, you've told us about what you'd like to see the rich countries do in Johannesburg, but what are you expecting from the African leaders who attend the WSSD in South Africa, for example from your own Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade?

First of all, I want them to understand that this is not a summit asking for development aid. It is negotiation, because environment is global and we have the same aims - to protect the environment. The effect of climate change is universal. We want our leaders not to go there asking for help for development. It is a negotiation. The rich people want to limit the effects of climate change and this is a priority, but development is more important for us.

In Senegal, for example, I'm not sure what has gone on in other countries, but here we have prepared a lot of strategies of how to have sustainable development. And this includes a lot of projects in agriculture, industry, forestry. In all these areas we have evaluated all sorts of strategies which we have handed to our leaders. We hope that at the Johannesburg summit they will defend our strategies with all their might, in order to have concrete commitments and not only declarations.

And within these strategies, we have concrete projects, very, very concrete projects with even the names of villages - for example, this project in Mboro. In industry too, we have concrete projects for the development of Senegal. We hope our leaders will be able to convince the rich countries to finance these programmes.

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