We've moved!

This donation page is on the old Big Give website. Please go to theBigGive.org.uk to find current campaigns and opportunities to double your donation.

If you have any queries on the changes, please email us at info@thebiggive.org.uk.

Project information

Sustainable Energy in Rural Malawi and Zimbabwe

To lift 6,000 men, women and children out of food insecurity, for good. They live in isolated, off-grid, poor rural communities. We want to help them improve the local economy, and particularly the agriculture sector where most of them work, by providing electric power for reliable irrigation.

April 2015 - March 2018

Charity information: Practical Action

Practical Action logo
  • Need


    Lack of food is the number one threat, with villagers dependent on food aid for half of the year. The problem is crop irrigation - rain is scarce and it’s hard to reach water in the (plentiful) underwater aquifers with manual pumps. Electricity would make this possible, and a sustainable, cheap source of power could also be used by small businesses, health clinics, schools, and homes, thus increasing the quality of life, and strengthening the local economy.


    We will install solar PV mini-grids and help people use the electricity; smallholder farmers will grow more crops through powered irrigation; businesses will offer new services, e.g. welding; newly established ‘energy kiosks’ will lease batteries to households, e.g. for lights; health and education will improve as clinics and schools connect to the mini-grids. We have done similar projects before, and have found providing electricity has a ‘multiplier effect’, including on household income.

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    increase agricultural yields for 400 smallholder farmers by at least 50%


    » Replace labour-intensive manual ‘treadle’ pumps with electric pumps, and train farmers in their use and maintenance
    » Through these new pumps, double the irrigation rate for crops, by accessing water in underground aquifers
    » Save farmers approx. 4 hours manual pumping time each day, which can be spent bringing new fields into productive use
    » Train farmers in new cultivation techniques, to increase crop yield

    What success will look like

    regularly monitor crop yields for smallholder farmers, both individually and via regular workshops , to ensure they rise by 50%

    Aim 2

    increase 400 smallholder farmer households’ (total 2,000 people) income by at least 30%


    » Help farmers increase crops’ value by electric processing e.g. milling maize into flour, rather than selling it as a raw product
    » Run ‘access to markets’ training to help smallholders move from subsistence, to farming as a profitable, commercial business (i.e. expand the market)
    » Train in soil improvement and water conservation, crop diversification, and post-harvest handling, to minimise costs and maximise production
    » Lobby municipal government to improve cross-border trading, to increase customer base

    What success will look like

    monitor income levels of farming households, via surveys and workshops, to ensure they rise by 30%

    Aim 3

    create and support associated businesses to benefit 2,500 community members


    » Replace unreliable diesel generators with reliable, cheaper solar power in the commercial areas of the two communities
    » Help farmers to establish agro-processing businesses – peanut-butter making, dairy, animal health centres, and maize grinding mills
    » Support demand for electric power in workshops – welding, drilling, manufacturing, artisan workshops, etc.
    » Provide electricity to small businesses/traders and run workshops increasing sales by e.g. selling cold drinks, and increasing opening hours

    What success will look like

    collect case studies from small businesses which have expanded services and products to take advantage of electricity

    Aim 4

    bring electric services to 2,000 people by establishing 2 energy kiosks (one in each community)


    » Identify entrepreneurs to manage energy kiosks on a cost-recovery basis, and give them business training
    » Build energy kiosks and train their managers in their two main customer services – battery charging, and internet access
    » Help promote the kiosk’s services within the local community, e.g. batteries for domestic lights, charging mobile phones, accessing information
    » Work with the kiosk managers to provide ‘add on’ services e.g. sale of spares and consumables

    What success will look like

    monitor and collect case studies on the financial viability of the kiosks themselves, and the benefits they bring to households and individuals, through the services they provide

    Aim 5

    improve community facilities, especially health for 5,200 people, and education for 400 children.


    » Provide connection from solar mini-grid to health clinic to enable refrigeration of vaccines, adequate lighting including at night, and computer use
    » Provide connection from solar mini-grid to school to enable computer use, adequate lighting, and better facilities for teachers
    » Ensure community engagement – local people to supply all labour, which will embed community ownership of assets and achievements
    » Promote use of battery home lights to reduce use of kerosene lamps and candles which are dangerous, and produce lung-damaging pollutants.

    What success will look like

    report on difference electricity makes to the care and treatment of patients, and to the quality of education for school pupils

  • Impact


    the project will boost the local economy and (measured) household income, by enabling smallholder farmers to grow more crops, process them to increase value, and find new markets, and by enabling local businesses to improve their services for customers. The ‘build’ will involve local universities’ engineering departments, to grow students’ capacity. It will demonstrate the viability of using agricultural growth as the business driver for off-grid electrification for future installations.


    Exclusion of poorest people: agriculture is the major employer in these communities and we need to ensure that boosting farming productivity and commercialisation does not just increase financial inequality. We have therefore developed, and will implement, a pro-poor approach to market development, which builds the confidence and capacity of disadvantaged market actors, to engage with more powerful ones, and to jointly identify and remove bottlenecks in order to grow the whole market.


    Quarterly: report against targets, and provide case studies (including video diaries)

    Annually: audit, community reviews held through workshops, and interactive ‘stories of change’ DVD

    Mid point: midway evaluation

    End of project: final evaluation

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £141,000

    Loading graph....
      Amount Heading Description
      £37,000 Capital Expenditure Solar PV minigrids and associated technologies and equipment
      £27,000 Project activities Community engagement, capacity builing, training
      £66,000 Project Management Staff costs, equipment,vehicle fuel, admin
      £11,000 Monitoring and Evaluation case study collection, surveys etc.

    Current Funding / Pledges

    Source Amount
    EC £1,269,000 Guaranteed
  • Background


    a) Chikwawa in southern Malawi

    b) Gwanda in southern Zimbabwe

    Both locations have very high levels of poverty and food insecurity. They rely on agriculture for their economy, chiefly through smallholder farming families. Our feasibility study found farmers in Chikwawa and Gwanda cultivated, on average, less than 10% of their land due to poor irrigation, yet both places have deep underwater aquifers which are under-utilised. Practical Action has a strong presence in both countries.


    400 smallholder farming families (2,000 people) will earn more money from their crops. 14,000 people from neighbouring areas will have increased food supply and improved markets.

    2,000 energy kiosk users will be able to charge batteries and access the internet.

    50 small businesses will increase income by offering new services and products to their 2,500 customers.

    5,200 health clinic users will receive modern healthcare.

    400 primary school children will get a better education.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    Practical Action’s Southern Africa Regional office has over 15 years’ experience in implementing energy, sustainable agriculture, market development, and livelihood projects in Southern Africa. Based in Zimbabwe our staff team are local to the countries we operate in. Our community participation methodology ensures our outcomes are sustained, long after the project has finished. We have identified local partner organisations who can help us deliver this work effectively, on time, and to budget.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    Joseph Hwani

    Access to Energy Project Manager, Zimbabwe office: ensure project is delivered according to plan

    Martha Munyoro

    Communications Manager, Zimbabwe office: ensure successes and challenges are communicated within the project, and within Practical Action

    Tim Young

    Project Architect, UK office: manage funding partnership with European Union

    Kate Mulkern

    Major Gifts, UK office: manage communications with UK private and individual (match) funders