Customer benefits and impacts

  On our July 2016 visit to our solar projects in Malawi, we spent about a week during this trip doing our training in a rural community. In that community, a simple walk down the road at night is a very impressive experience: it is a fairly densely populated area, but there are no lights, except for a few flashlights, fires, and the few houses that have our solar lights. It also seems clear to us that for these rural areas, there isn't any approach that is currently being implemented near Malawi that is going to get lights to these households as well as our grassroots low-cost systems approach.  A key reason is that most other approaches tend to start in the cities and towns and then go out in the country.  What we observe is that there are quite a few solar shops in the cities, but good solar equipment has trouble getting to the country-side and getting properly installed.

If you want to see two customers describe the benefits of the solar systems in their own words, you can watch these videos:

Why we must rapidly grow our efforts!
    The six most popular benefits of solar lights in rural Malawi

 Here we list six big benefits of that our customers mention regarding the solar lighting systems that they purchase.

Benefit #1: Saving on batteries and candles (i.e. more light at less cost)

  Most people before they got the solar lights used battery-powered torches (or flashlights).  These flashlights use disposable batteries that cost $1 to $3 per month, while candles cost about a 25 cents and last one night (so they can be used only occasionally). The traditional alternatives are so expensive that most of the time that people have at night is spent in the dark, or around the light of a fire, which means that many productive activities are restricted to daylight hours.

Benefit #2: Older kids can study at night

  In Malawi, younger children (below middle school) do not have homework and usually do not study at night. But older children do study at night and appear to appreciate the extra study time that the lights give them, especially around exam time.  Parents frequently mentioned 'children being able to study at night' as a benefit of the lights.

Benefit #3: Women like to be able to cook at night

  The third-most-mentioned item was the ability that the lights gave for night-time cooking. One young man mentioned that now that his mother can cook at night, she can spend more time socializing and going to church meetings in the evening, and come home later to have dinner around 7 or 8 at night (rather than 5 or 6).

  One particularly compelling story was that of a woman who has a home biscuit-cooking business. With the lights, she was able to cook at night, and increase her buscuit-business from $1.10/day to $2/day, almost doubling her sales. The neighbors also like coming over at night to buy the freshly cooked breads.

Benefit #4: Husking corn or other productive night time activities.

  Besides cooking, other people mentioned other productive night-time activities that were enabled by the lights. Many people grow corn/maze. And after they harvest the dried corn, they have to remove the kernels from the cob.  One man mentioned that with the light, they can now remove 50 to 100 kilos of corn from the cob at night. A carpenter mentioned that he can now sand his wood at night.  Before it would be too dark to do these productive activities at night, and would not be worth the cash needed for flashlight batteries. With the solar lights they can now do these activities at night and not worry about the cost of batteries or candles.

Benefit #5: Now they can see if snakes or other animals have gotten into the house.

  At least two folks mentioned the ability to see snakes at night as a big benifit of the lights. One person mentioned that the old way to find/see a suspected snake was to run out the house, grab some dried grass, light it on fire, and use the light from the burning grass to look for the animal.  Meanwhile one woman, mentioned that two people in her village recently got bitten by poisonous snakes (black mambas) because they couldn't see inside their house when they came home after dark.

Benefit #6: Scaring rats away from the grain.

  Many people store their harvested grain in their house, which not surprisingly attracts rats (which probably attracts the snakes mentioned above). One customer mentioned that the lights are great for helping scare or chase the rats away from the grain.