Energy transforming communities, Ndiriri, Mozambique

 A year ago Ndiriri was a very different place. Located in Mozambique’s Manica Province, this was one of many rural settlements in Southern Africa region with no access to electricity. Now, 63 year old Mupfarinya confidently turns on the turbine valve. There is a sudden gush of water and pulleys connected to an electricity generator spring to life in unison rotation. He monitors a series of dials on an instrument panel on the wall and watches anxiously as the dials shift

In just a few minutes, the Ndiriri community is transformed. Street lights connected to power lines flicker on and reach full light within seconds. Lights can be seen switching on in households dotted around Ndiriri. Within a few minutes, many households are fully lit. The silence that prevailed through the day is suddenly broken by a loud radio down at the Ndiriri business centre, as the storekeeper warms up for clientele who will pass time, enjoying their favourite cold drinks as they relax after a hard day’s work.

In Southern Africa, access to electricity in rural areas remains low. Less than 1% of the population of Mozambique has energy.  This severely curtails essential economic activities such as agro processing and light engineering. Lack of access to modern energy is a major obstacle to services such as education and health.

For the Ndiriri community, this success story has been a result of Practical Action’s energy project which seeks to demonstrate that decentralised renewable energy systems are a viable option for rural communities.  In partnership with a local organisation, Kwayedza Simukai Maninca (KSM), Practical Action is implementing six small-scale micro hydro schemes in the region.  Mupfarinya is one of seven ‘energy entrepreneurs’ involved. He is the operator of the Ndiriri micro-hydro scheme, which has a 24kVA electricity generation capacity.  Here 138 households will benefit from electrification as well as a business centre, school, clinic and grain milling service.

This project is promoting a model where a subsidised loan is given to an individual entrepreneur for power generation as well as the side business of grain milling. This model was chosen in Manica because of the long history of individually owned micro hydro for grain milling in the area. This is how it works.  The operator obtains a loan from the project to construct a micro-hydro scheme. These costs cover construction of the weir, canal, forebay tank and the power house and other accessories. The operator repays this loan from income earned from the households and other customers that he connects to the scheme for the use of the electricity and for the service of milling grain.

In this model, 100% of the transmission and distribution costs are grant financed.  50% of amount financing the generation of the scheme to the operator is also a grant. The operator pays back 50% of the total generation amount to a community managed revolving fund. The operator runs his business to generate a profit, so owns the electricity generation component of scheme, whilst the transmission equipment is owned by the community.

Three schemes have been completed so far with three more are under construction rehabilitation. The completed schemes are providing electricity and maize milling facilities to at least 300 households.

Rehabilitation schemes involve removing old turbines constructed from materials such as car tyre rims and scrap metal and replacing these with high quality professionally made turbines. Chihururu's micro hydro scheme has operated by 45 year old Isaac Chihururu aince 1996. The original machinery was made of scrap metal and provided only limited milling services to villages close to Chihururu.  Now electricity generation has been added to the maize mill and Chihururu has become an energy entrepreneur. The scheme has a capacity of 27 kW.

“I started operating this scheme in 1987, providing maize milling to the Chihururu community. However, the turbine that was in use and the pipes that channeled the water to the turbine did not have the capacity to run the maize mill efficiently.This project has made a remarkable difference. The Chihururu community now has access to electricity, with 42 households and the business centre connected. The mill’s capacity has been increased and it is much faster now. I am now able to serve at least 200 people per week, charging M20 per bucket of maize.” He stated.

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Edward Gwishiri, 42, runs a grocery shop and bar which was electrified by the project in 2010. Before he ran a small grocery shop, and relied on a diesel generator to run his fridge, radio, television and lighting: ”My operations have increased significantly as a result of access to electricity. With the generator, I used to pay up to 450MT for using diesel per month, now, I pay Mt200 a month for electricity.” he noted. “The shop I run now is much bigger than it was before. With the prospect of electricity coming to Ndiriri, I decided to extend the shop and also bought two more fridges. This has increased my daily earnings, where I used to make 200MT per day, I now make at least Mt500."

His shop has recently undergone renovations and has increased in size. The glistening new coat of yellow paint signifies the renewed enthusiasm that Edward has, and indeed that of the Ndiriri community where lives have been changed by access to energy.

Other micro hydro schemes in this project are at Chua, Nerufundo, Chitunga and Ngwarai. Manica Province has huge potential for micro-hydro, already over 70 more possible sites have been identified in the district. Practical Action will use the lessons generated by the project here in Manica to mobilise resources and scale-up this work elsewhere and to connect more households.  The project has also provided training in maintenance and in business and financial management, to ensure that the scheme is sustainable in the longer term.

Inevitably there have been a few teething problems. The tariff structure for the scheme has been a thorny issue. All households and businesses connected to electricity at the Ndiriri and Chihururu schemes pay a flat rate of Mt200 (US$ 6.80) on a monthly basis, which does not take into consideration the number of appliances in use within the households and businesses.

The project is looking at implementing a management system that ensures increased system availability, financial viability and sustainability, such as installing a pre-paid metering system as used at Chipendeke in Zimbabwe, to ensure that tariffs set will create a balance between viability and the socio-economic considerations of the users. Manica Province has huge micro-hydro potential, already over 70 potential micro-hydro sites have been identified in the district. Practical Action will use the lessons generated by the project here in Manica to mobilise resources and scale-up this work elsewhere.


There is some evidence that providing energy without offering a productive end use compromises financial viability. Naturally there are operation and maintenance costs and often in the absence of payment for those services the system will become run down. Also providing services to meet basic requirements needs backup and often in rural communities’ livelihoods options are not diverse, which makes it hard to earnn the extra income to pay for energy. 

Targeted subsidies, which do not distort market systems, provide a solution. All rural electrification projects in sub Saharan Africa are based on some form of subsidy, so there is a recognition that basic infrastructure has to be in place to facilitate economic growth.  Capital subsidies can be extended to the poor through the provision of services to schools, clinics and business centres, or irrigation facilities.

Different ownership models have been showcased in the regional micro schemes in Mozambique.  It appears that in Mozambique an individual ownership model is more viable because communities believe communally owned development projects do not ensure sustainability.

In Zimbabwe the shareholder model, where users automatically become owners is used at Chipendeke.  An institutionally managed system is in place at Nyafaru and Dazi .  Pre paid systems have proved more viable and more sustainable.  Here a consumer pays for what they use rather than a flat fee which may not reflect the actual number of units used. Practical Action are also looking to create a regional network of like minded organizations to lobby for policy on decentralized energy options. 

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