By Robert Manyara
MIGORI, Kenya, April 19 (Xinhua) -- Hot sunny days can cause an economic havoc to the Kenyan fisher folks at Lake Victoria, the largest fishing waters in East Africa shared among Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
With too much heat, fish rot so quickly if they are not preserved or reach the consumer as soon as they harvested. But this all-year round sunlight is turning out to be a solution to their preservation problems: solar energy.
With the help of four development oriented partners, fishing communities at Muhuru Bay, a stretched out section of the larger Lake Victoria lying on Migori County in Western Kenya have access to a solar micro-grid distributing the energy they need to power deep freezers.
To set up the 2 kW micro-grid, a British charity, Renewable World partnered with Osienala and Family Support Community based Initiatives (Fascia), both non-governmental organizations and an energy technologies' provider firm, Access Energy which has so far been rebranded SteamaCo.
Lake Victoria covers four counties in the lakeside region mainly Kisumu, Homabay, Siaya and Migori, providing a main source of livelihood and water to hundreds of locals.
"This area (Muhuru Bay) is not covered with electricity and so we have no means of refrigerating fish," said Lucas Odhiambo, a beneficiary of the solar power.
"We now have deep freezers using the solar and we are happy we can preserve our fish without much worry," Odhiambo told Xinhua on Wednesday.
Ngore Renewable Energy and Auxiliary Project (REAP) runs the grid which includes connecting the power to new customers and accounting for its use.
Odhiambo, also the chairperson of REAP said more than 1,000 people are beneficiaries of the grid, saving them from long journeys of searching for electricity connected shops to charge their phones.
The fishermen are equally happy to have the micro-grid since they can comfortably charge their newly acquired solar lamps at a lower cost than paraffin refills.
"It is not just expensive to use paraffin but also dangerous as it can fall and burn someone unlike solar lamps," said Odhiambo.
"Fishermen need four lamps for fishing at night and each paraffin lamp has to be filled with paraffin worth 2 U.S. dollars. These days you only need 0.50 dollars to charge each of the four solar lamps," he added.
Charles Wantaro, who manages the Muhuru Bay's micro-grid, said subscribers pay 20 dollars to be connected, more than seven times of what the State utility distribution firm charges for tapping into the national grid.
"The connection fee is manageable for the locals and they can use the solar to do business like charging phones or powering public address systems," he said.
Those already connected are charged 1.4 dollars kilowatt per hour, Wantaro said. For these communities on the shores of Lake Victoria, connection to solar energy is a platform to improving lives while for the government it is a step towards enhancing attainment of universal access and utilization of clean energy, a target it hopes to reach by 2020.
Production of solar energy in Kenya is still small, presently at less than one percent of the total power generated but the government is encouraging initiatives such as Muhuru Bay's to increase the output.
Peter Mireri, project officer with Osienala, one of Renewable World's partners said the solar power has expanded the economic opportunities of the locals.
"Lives have changed here. The fishermen can afford a smile since they are now able to store fish while they scout for a profitable market," Mireri said.
"There are people who are currently managing various businesses courtesy of solar power. In the end their economic status will improve and they will live better lives," he added.