In northern Ghana, 10 horsepower helps to fight poverty

22 Apr 2010

14 April 2010, Tamale, Ghana — Amadu Mahama has spent the last 20 years trying to make accessible modern energy services to his people in his native Tamale of northern Ghana.  He has never doubted that access to modern energy services is a key to reducing poverty, especially in rural areas where only 17 percent of the population is estimated to be connected to the national electricity grid.

Generally, women and men he has worked with had to do everything manually that they never had time for anything else.  The girl children — as women are traditionally responsible for household chores — often had to stay home to help with grinding and processing grains.  Then in 2005, a group of local non-governmental organisations — New Energy, SEND-Ghana, WACSO and KITE — introduced multi-functional platforms with UNDP’s support, as a three-year pilot project.  For residents of the five districts where Mahama works, it was a godsend. 

Multi-functional platforms, commonly known as MFPs, is a 10 horsepower diesel engine mounted on a chassis to which a variety of processing equipment — such as cassava grater or oil press — can be attached.  It can also charge batteries, power a water pump, and light up to 200 bulbs.  They are well-established in neighbouring Mali as part of a decade-long initiative of UNDP and UN Industrial Development Organization in the 1990s.  UNDP also worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007 to establish 600 rural agro-enterprises, including the MFPs, in Burkina Faso, Senegal and Mali.  One platform costs about $5,000. 

“There is a direct connection between energy and poverty”, said Mahama.  “Many women have seen their income go up from $30 to $120 a month because of the increase in agricultural production”.

Charles Kitindo, a 49-year-old farmer from the Nanumba North District, had never thought it would be possible to cultivate commercial crops.  He and his two wives worked all the time to keep the farm.  Since they had a well-functioning MFP installed in the house, their income has increased, and they have food at home because they can process grain without having to travel to processing mills.  They have more time to take care of their 12 children, seven of whom attend school. 

Kitino said people travel to his village to buy gari, tapioca and cassava dough because of the high quality of products.  He wants to expand his cassava farm by five acres, he said, and increase his yam production from 8,000 to 16,000 mounds.

Ghana’s poverty rate has declined from 51.7 per cent in 1992 to 28.5 per cent in 2006, according to the national statistical services.  The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has also fallen by half from 36 percent to 18 percent between 1992 and 2006.

“It shows that Ghana can potentially achieve the first Goal”, said Akua Dua-Agyeman with UNDP in Ghana, referring to the Millennium Development Goal 1, eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.

The Ghanaian Government has mainstreamed the MDGs into its national development framework that has driven the socio-economic agenda.  The government owns and leads the design and implementation of all UNDP-supported projects, and conducts an annual evaluation of MDG progress.  The coherence and consistency in national policies to reduce poverty are the key success factors, explained Dua-Agyeman.

Unfortunately, not all Ghanaians have benefited equally from progress.  Higher incidences of poverty in the rural areas continue, and more than half of the total numbers of “extremely poor” people live in northern Ghana.  In order to counter the development imbalances between the poorest three northern regions and the rest of Ghana, the government is pursuing policies that specifically target the North.

The government has also sought to strengthen the autonomy of its 170 districts.  Several northern districts — such as Savalugu-Natom, Tamale, Salaga and Atebubu Amanten — recognise the benefits of multi-functional platforms and feel responsible to enhance MFP services for communities.

“What is difficult for me is not being able to meet the soaring demands from communities and individuals for the platform,” said Mahama.  “I know it can make a difference.  It’s just a matter of resources”.

Story by Katrin Park