Entries close on 15 March

Energising agriculture: new Ashden Award will power up small-scale farming


Posted By:

Craig Burnett


Two billion people rely on food produced by small-scale farming, which is a crucial source of income for the world’s least wealthy people. But these growers and producers are often just one bad harvest away from disaster.

And for farmers already forced to work on small and unproductive plots of land, the droughts and rising temperatures brought by climate change are a huge and increasing danger.

Renewable energy technologies such as solar powered irrigation pumps, dryers, mills, and cold storage dramatically improve people’s ability to earn a living and feed their families. In off-grid communities these tools help producers and local vendors grow more, get a better price for what they sell, add value by processing their harvests, or work with new crops and products.

And in a world where one in nine people are undernourished, higher productivity leads to better health as well as raised incomes.

Yet access to renewable energy and new appliances is not, on its own, enough to improve livelihoods. Farmers, producers and local vendors also need new skills, resources, finance, and connections – an ecosystem of support and opportunities – to take advantage of these tools.

The Ashden Award for Energising Agriculture is open now, for trailblazing organisations driving progress in these key areas and bridging the gap between the agriculture and energy access sectors. Winners receive a cash grant, and all finalists benefit from publicity and connections through the Ashden network. Entry is free, but closes on 14 March.

The power to create change

Studies gathered by Power for All show that renewable energy technologies have boosted agricultural yields in Kenya by 300%, and cut grain processing time in Nepal by 75%. Meanwhile, solar pumps cut the amount of time women in Zimbabwe spent walking to collect water from six hours every day to one or two.

Sustainable technology can also bring much-needed cold storage to off-grid communities. Every year, lack of refrigeration leads to food losses totalling $4 billion and $4.5 billion in India and Africa respectively. In sub-Saharan Africa, loss of perishable fruit and vegetables can reach 50%.

Case study: holistic support helps landless women

Indian business S4S Technologies manufactures a patented solar conduction dryer, suitable for dehydrating crops, including fruit, vegetables, grains, and spices. Under its ‘buy-back’ mechanism, the company also buys crops from farmers and trains agricultural entrepreneurs, usually landless women farmers, to dry them.

S4S works with local NGOs, already deeply embedded in the community, to identify, train, and support these women, boosting their business and technical skills. It also partners with microfinance institutions to make sure its solution is affordable to as many farmers as possible. This holistic approach won S4S the 2020 Ashden Award for Energy and Livelihoods.

YouTube video

Cooling innovators Ecozen save strawberry crop

Mahabaleshwar, in the state of Maharashtra, is India’s strawberry capital. The district is home to just over 10,000 people but produces 85% of India’s strawberries – close to 20,000 tonnes of the fruit are harvested every year. But there and across India, many poorer farmers lack efficient, affordable cold storage for the food they grow.

In 2021, when dramatic lockdown restrictions closed markets and limited consumer spending, these marginalised farmers faced disaster. Local tourism and demand for ice cream – both of which create opportunities for strawberry farmers – were also badly hit. Across Mahabaleshwar, farmers faced a loss of around $2.7 million.

But the arrival of three portable solar-powered cold rooms from innovator Ecozen helped small-scale farmers in the district to meet demand in the huge cities of Mumbai and Pune – as well as the further afield markets of Bengaluru, Kochi and Chennai.

Read the full story here. Ecozen won the 2018 International Ashden Award for Powering Business, and is a member of Ashden’s Fair Cooling Fund.

Why enter the Ashden Awards

Winning an Ashden Award brings a prize of up to £25,000 as well as ongoing development support, from professional mentoring to pro-bono legal help. We put winners and finalists in front of funders, investors, policymakers, journalists and others who know the unique value of an Ashden Award and the strength of our rigorous assessment process.

We create promotional films about our winners’ work, and tell the story of winners and finalists in mainstream and specialist media, and through our growing digital channels. We’ve helped organisations gain coverage in Sky News, The Telegraph, Times of India, Al Jazeera, New Scientist and other leading publications.

The views and insights of winners and finalists are at the heart of our influential reports, toolkits and events – which shape the views of key climate decisionmakers.

Applications for the 2022 Ashden Awards are open now.

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