NANCY SIAME, Mwinilunga
IN RURAL areas, the main source of income is agriculture, which is mainly done at subsistence level. To farm on a large scale, a lot of water needs to be pumped to the villages for people to engage in various irrigation systems, most of which require electricity.
Unfortunately, electricity in rural Zambia is a scarce resource which, if available, is mostly in form of solar.
That said, agriculture has the potential to develop rural areas and help in eradicating extreme poverty in communities.
At a time when the government is talking about diversifying the countryâ€™s economy from mining to agriculture, it is only important that investment is made in the development of rural areas.
And provision of electricity is a starting point.
Fortunately, the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) is moving in that direction.
A case in point is the mini-hydro power plant being constructed in Mwinilunga, North-Western Province, at a cost of K90 million.
A mini-grid, also sometimes referred to as a micro grid or isolated grid, is a set of electricity generators and possibly energy storage systems interconnected to a distribution network that supplies electricity to a localised group of customers.
It involves small-scale electricity generation which serves a limited number of consumers via a distribution grid that can operate in isolation from national electricity transmission networks.
The Kasanjiku mini-hydro power grid in Mwinilunga, which will have the capacity to generate 640 kilowatts of electricity when its construction is completed in 2018, is projected to supply power to over 12,000 people in Senior Chiefs Ntambu and Sailungaâ€™s areas.
Among the beneficiaries of this project will be small-scale farmers who have the potential to grow enough food crops and create employment opportunities for others.
The farmers are optimistic that the electricity to be provided from the project will be used to pump water for irrigation purposes to enable them grow crops on a larger scale.
A local farmer, Joshua Mbengi, says the coming of the mini-power plant in his area will boost his crop production which his family will consume and store some for sale.
He is hopeful that electricity generation in Kasanjiku will attract investors to the area who will create employment opportunities for the local people and improve their incomes.
A good road network in the area will also make it easy for farmers to transport their produce to the market.
â€œOnce we have power, I will be able to buy a fridge for storing some of my agricultural produce to prevent them from going bad before selling it. I will also engage in other agricultural activities other than maize growing as I will venture into irrigation farming,â€ Mr Mbengi says.
The construction of the Kasanjiku mini-power plant was officially commissioned recently by Vice-President Inonge Wina.
Mrs Wina said Government has put in place a master plan to electrify rural areas, a project which will require US$50 million annually for it to be implemented.
â€œThe plan will raise the access profile of electricity in rural areas from the current 3.7 percent to 51 percent,â€ she said.
The government is committed to transforming rural Zambia because it believes that is where development should be concentrated.
Mrs Wina was hopeful that with provision of electricity in rural areas, communities will be able to set up businesses such as salons and restaurants through which they will earn a living.
She appealed to the private sector to join hands with the government through public private partnerships to invest in viable ventures aimed at providing electricity in rural areas.
â€œThis will open up more investment opportunities in the country,â€ Mrs Wina said.
REA board chairperson Jorry Mwenechanya said the Kasanjiku power plant will have an isolated mini-grid that will supply electricity to Luwi Mission Hospital, eight primary schools, three secondary schools, four rural health centres and a local court.
Other areas that are expected to benefit from the project are churches, chiefsâ€™ palaces, trading centres and several households.
Professor Mwenechanya said REA has completed feasibility studies at four other sites in North-Western Province where the authority intends to set up similar mini-hydro grids.
He said these electricity generation projects are examples of REAâ€™s diversified strategy for implementing its electrification programme.
Senior Chief Ntambu is thankful to the government for taking the project to his area, saying it will help improve his subjectsâ€™ living standards.
â€œI can assure you that this project will be guarded jealously to ensure that it benefits the local people,â€ he said.
With this kind of development, it is believed that the people of senior chiefs Ntambu and Sailunga will see an improvement in their lives as they will use the electricity to engage in different activities including farming.
The reading culture among pupils is also expected to advance as they will have longer hours to study due to the sustained availability of electricity.
Provision of health services at Luwi Mission Hospital is also envisaged to be enhanced as staff will no longer be dependent on the diesel-powered generator.
Rural electrification is an important programme as it provides access to modern energy to the poor people in the countryside.
Electricity is used for residential and public lighting, pumping drinking water, irrigation, refrigeration, rural industries, and many other purposes.
Clearly, rural electrification has proved to be an effective way of uplifting peopleâ€™s living standards.
Low incomes in rural areas hinder families from being connected to the national electricity grid and the only way they can access power is through REA.
NANCY SIAME, Mwinilunga