Renewable energy and its opportunities to provide adaptation benefits to women in Sierra Leone
Feature image: A woman transporting charcoal, one of the principal sources of fuel used for cooking in Sierra Leone. Photo credit: Silvia Emili.
As part of a new assignment to design a project for the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), I travelled to Sierra Leone last month to explore opportunities for adaptation to climate change in the energy sector.
Renewable energy and its adaptation benefits
Climate change directly affects the energy sector with impacts on energy production and transmission, including risks for energy infrastructures, such as damage caused by extreme weather events and changes in the demand for heating and cooling services. While renewable energy technologies are usually deployed to achieve mitigation benefits, they have a large potential to contribute to climate change adaptation by providing a wide range of socioeconomic and environmental benefits.
In low-income and developing contexts, investments in the energy sector are crucial for sustainable socio-economic development, poverty reduction efforts and enhanced food security.
With only 13% of the population, and 2% of rural communities, having access to grid electricity, Sierra Leone’s energy demand is characterized by low per capita consumption and by high dependence on fuelwood. The country urgently needs investments to electrify the country and considerable opportunities lie in the deployment of renewable energy technologies that can provide energy access while decreasing rural communities’ vulnerability to climate change.
It has been demonstrated that when energy access efforts are delivered through a renewable energy-based integrated approach, the economic impact on local communities is double compared to projects that focus on solely on energy provision. Benefits include increased purchasing power of communities, improved agricultural productivity, increased access to education and time savings. The adoption of an integrated approach that looks at energy and food production can deliver adaptation benefits by increasing the economic productive capacity of communities.
Sierra Leone: women’s vulnerabilities to climate change
Dependant on rain-fed agriculture, the majority of the population in Sierra Leone live in rural areas, trapped in a combination of low agricultural productivity and malnutrition, with approximately 70 percent living below the national poverty line. Rural communities present limited adaptive capacity to cope with the effects of climate change due to their dependence on natural resources and their lack of livelihood diversification options.
In Sierra Leone, women play a key role in agricultural development, particularly in post-harvest processing, storage, marketing and livestock keeping, but social norms and patriarchal societal structures limit their participation in decision-making processes and in accessing key resources such as land and credit. Women farmers present high vulnerability due to the perishable nature of their crops and the absence of storage facilities, and they have to walk long distances to access markets. The lack of post-harvest technologies affects their ability to market their commodities and hence directly affects their income generation opportunities. In addition, women’s ability to adapt to climate change is hindered by limited access to education and information, and by the burden of household-related responsibilities such as childcare, fuelwood collection and food preparation.
Productive uses of energy: opportunities for adaptation benefits
For this project we adopted an integrated approach for energy access that could deliver adaptation benefits through the productive use of renewable energy. Productive uses of renewable energy, defined as those that increase income or productivity such as value-added activities, can deliver adaptation benefits by increasing the economic productive capacity of communities.
We looked at a wide range of energy services for agricultural value chains that could be provided through productive uses of renewable energy technologies, including:
- Irrigation, which provides better yields, higher-value crops, greater reliability
- Grinding, milling or husking create value-added products from raw agricultural commodities
- Refrigeration, increasing the durability of products
- Transport, increasing access to markets
Clean and resilient energy solutions can deliver integrated benefits for rural populations and can contribute to development objectives by integrating adaptation into rural electrification efforts.
These benefits include the diversification and strengthening of livelihoods of the vulnerable population, particularly women and youth. At the value chain and system level, renewable energy technologies and appliances can contribute to increasing the resilience of food systems. For example, renewable energy-based agroprocessing facilities and efficient appliances will provide income-generation and reduce post-harvest losses.
The project was designed to address gender-related barriers such as the low capacity to establish and grow agribusinesses, their limited awareness of market linkages and opportunities for income generation.
The approach involved the delivery of gender and social inclusion benefits by targeting women and youth as primary beneficiaries of the activities. In this case, a gendered approach will provide opportunities for women to be involved at various stages of the project implementation, with a focus on increasing their capacity to actively participate in decision-making processes and their ability to access income generation opportunities. The project will also provide capacity building for livelihood diversification activities and enterprise creation, increasing communities’ employment and income opportunities, thus reducing poverty and increasing the resilience of subsistence livelihoods.
 IEA Africa Energy Outlook 2019
Read more of Silvia’s articles on energy access, renewable energy and gender perspectives in the clean energy transition.
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