Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities

In Malawi and Zimbabwe, farmers often struggle to grow enough produce even to sustain their families as their fields are left barren by drought.

They try to irrigate their land using pumps powered by diesel engines but they are expensive to operate and maintain and when they stop working, families are left in serious poverty and hunger.

But solar-powered irrigation could be an affordable and sustainable solution to this challenge.

What we’re doing to help

Objective: Generate electricity for 30,000 people without power to improve their livelihoods

Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC)
Location: Gwanda district, Zimbabwe; Nsanje and Chikwawa districts, Malawi
Project date: February 2015 – January 2019
Partners: SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, Dabane Trust in Zimbabwe, Hivos, Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD) and Environment Africa in Malawi
Funding: £5.6 million
Principal funders: European Union, OFID and GEF Small Grants Programme

The Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities project is helping families survive future droughts, put food on their tables and sell surplus crops to earn a living. We are achieving this by connecting irrigation schemes to solar-powered mini-grids.

We are also providing farmers with knowledge on new farming techniques to help them grow more and better crops and increase their income.

The project will generate over 200KW to power schools, clinics, businesses and irrigation schemes – transforming the education, health, wellbeing and earning opportunities of many local communities.

BBC Radio 4 appeal, September 2017

In September 2017, author and TV presenter Simon Reeve presented the BBC Radio 4 appeal on our behalf with stories from this energy work in Southern Africa. The appeal featured the story of Eveness and Juma and the solar energy that is helping them irrigate their land. 

Listen to the broadcast 

Look how far your money can go

“Women had to bring candles in case we had to deliver babies at night…and not all patients could afford candles. Now the clinic has electricity we can use proper lighting and equipment such as fridges to store vaccines and not put a risk to people’s lives.” – Priscilla Mano, nurse at Mashaba Clinic, Zimbabwe


In the first year of this four-year project we have installed a solar mini-grid in Gwanda, Zimbabwe, which is providing power to homes, a school, clinic and irrigation schemes.

In the remaining three years of the project we will install four solar mini-grids in Nsanje and Chikwawa in Malawi, providing power to homes, three irrigation schemes, two clinics and three business centres. In total, the project will benefit 360,000 people.

This is the first solar-powered mini-grid of its kind in Southern Africa. Following our success, we have been invited to help develop the renewable energy national policy and support the Ministry of Energy and Power Development in Zimbabwe to develop 100 similar mini-grids. By working with governments in this way we can make sure that many more people will benefit from getting access to renewable energy solutions.

Read more about this project »

From darkness to light

Lack of access to modern, affordable and sustainable renewable energy services is a challenge for the rural population in Zimbabwe.  Energy is supplied in the country by a mixture of hydroelectricity, coal and renewables. According to the world energy outlook 2000, the national electrific...

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Solar power will boost business for Kenes

Access to modern energy for household and small enterprises is very limited in Malawi.  Less than 10% overall have electricity, and this falls to 1% in some remote areas. Currently, Malawi gets over 90% of its total energy from biomass according to the World Bank access to electricity...

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Updates from this project

A tonic for development

Lack of access to modern, affordable and sustainable renewable energy services for the rural population remains a challenge in Zimbabwe. According to the World Energy Outlook 2000, the country currently has a national electrification rate of 41.5%. While electricity has reached 79% of urban ho...
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Has solar power’s moment in Africa finally arrived?

Some rural areas of Zimbabwe are currently in a state of disaster after being hit by a severe drought. But there is hope that a new Practical Action project in the country using solar power to irrigate land could help overcome the problems that climate change is causing. [caption align="alignc...
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Ground breaking ceremony for Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC) project

On 27th August 2015 I witnessed a memorable event for Practical Action Southern Africa.Zimbabwe`s Minister of Energy and Power Development Dr.Samuel Undenge and Chief Mathe of Gwanda District broke ground for a 99Kw solar energy and livelihoods project.This project will demonstrate how sustainabl...
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Building HOPE for women farmers in Chikwawa

In September, I spent a few days in Chikwawa, in Malawi’s lower Shire region. My mission was to collect case studies on the current situation facing farmers before the implementation of the Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC) project. During this process, I got to hear and witness...
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