RE4AFAGRI: Renewable Energy for African Agriculture – Modelling Excellence and Robust Business Models

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Work Package (WP)

The RE4AFAGRI project will be developed as LEAP-RE WP 12.

Location

The project will be implemented in Zambia, Rwanda, South Africa, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, other sub-saharan countries where capacity building will take place.  

Partners

Lead: HEAS AG

Overall Objectives
  • Advancing the state-of-the-art of energy-water nexus modelling in rural areas of developing countries to bridge the current gap between large-scale and local-scale frameworks and agricultural and electrification modelling.   
  • Delivering a set of open-source validated tools developed through both analytical and empirical approaches that can be exploited by African stakeholders in future applications. 
  • Providing capacity building activities for: i) African research institutions to enable the use of the developed integrated water-energy assessment platform; ii) African entrepreneurs to enable the implementation of technological solutions through the identified business models; iii) public administrations to establish the required policy frameworks needed for a successful replicability, scalability and transferability.  
  • Designing business models allowing to implement integrated energy-water solutions in rural areas, based on identified best practices, regulatory hurdles and opportunities through the participation of African businesses, public authorities, and smallholder consortia. 
  • Supporting policymakers in establishing policy frameworks that ensure that the business models identified can be successfully implemented by local entrepreneurs while also meeting the technical and environmental requirements to fulfil development objectives in rural areas.  
Context: why is this action necessary? 

In sub-Saharan Africa 80% of agricultural production comes from small farmers, who however face constraints that reduce their productivity. Extensive rain-fed agriculture (90% of all cropland) under the unpredictable and erratic rainfall pattern has been the leading cause of the low productivity and food insecurity in Africa, together with a low degree of mechanisation. This has been reinforcing a persistent poverty trap triggering cyclical famines and jeopardising local development opportunities.   

To address these challenges, there is a need for agricultural transformation to ensure the food security of the smallholder farmers of the continent. The input of electric energy provides a foundational building block upon which significant development becomes possible. Access to affordable energy enables pumping groundwater, rainwater harvested and stored in underground or surface storage tanks, and powering machineries that could significantly contribute in closing the yield gap. This would have positive consequences for food security (SDG 2), ensuring healthy life (SDG 3), ensuring equitable and inclusive education (SDG 4), access to water (SDG 6), access to energy (SDG 7) and local socio-economic development (SDG 8), thus contributing to the reduction of rural-urban and gender inequalities (SDG 10).  

The impact of rural energy access projects is already being experienced in many poor communities across Africa as SHS companies and mini-grids see increasing penetration as a result of falling technology costs and more refined business models. The challenge now is not to prove that these projects have positive social impact, the challenge is for this sector to scale. For this to occur, tools are required that leverage the most cutting-edge technologies being developed across the world to remove the barriers to entry and commercial pain points for actors wanting to develop and invest in energy access projects in Africa. These actors do not have access to this technology nor the resources to devote to developing these tools. 

What are the concrete actions that will be implemented? 

Our consortium includes specialists who are pioneers in nexus integrated modelling, building projects and developing commercial business models in these emerging markets for about a decade.  

RE4AFAGRI aims at developing an open-source, freely available sector support tool that facilitates and streamlines some of the hardest and most costly processes in the implementation of energy access business models: the process of site selection and technology evaluation. The consortium intends to do this with a modelling platform integrating existing bottom-up solutions with regional and basin-scale models developed by consortium partners.  

The processes will be complemented by the extensive local market and sector experience of the African consortium partners to ensure local relevance. This is crucial for the macro, national government-level regulatory perspective, via the energy access funding and investment landscape to the very micro validation of community-level business models. From design, through development, validation and implementation, this work will be guided by the core principle of commercial relevance. This is an industry support tool and consequently must validate, enable and facilitate actual and emergent energy access business models through carrying out focus groups, conducting interviews, assessing rural communities, evaluating policy structures, assembling and collating data and eventually test solutions.  

The project aims at carrying out parallel capacity building activities to be held in several African countries with the objective of transmitting the relevant knowledge to ensure the project aims are pursued well beyond the duration of the project. This includes modelling trainings for African research centres and discussing the project’s results in terms of replicable sustainable business models with local entrepreneurs and of the enabling policies with the policymakers. 

The main objective is to provide a replicable and scalable modelling infrastructure and business approach which will exert a tangible impact on the livelihoods of farmers and their broader communities across Africa. 

What is the expected impact of the WP?

RE4AFAGRI will provide African research institutions and public and private decision makers with the tools and expertise necessary to autonomously operate a multi-scale modelling platform that can support the design and implementation of integrated optimal solutions for the energy and water nexus in rural areas.  

In parallel, RE4AFAGRI  will set the ground for a multi-stakeholder discussion platform about the business models and enabling environment (policy and regulation) to promote the involvement of the private sector in water-energy-agriculture integrated solutions to get into the business under the framework of public-private partnership, thus widely contributing to future project upscaling and reproducibility.  

The aimed impact of the RE4AFAGRI project is to contribute to the transformation of the African smallholder farmers’ agriculture and demonstrate an alternative approach to guarantee enough food production needed for the effective deliverance of the population in the region that is under persistent threat of hunger. With the diversity of academic institutions, government agencies and commercial energy access specialists involved in this consortium, broad spectrum relevance to the realities of African energy access challenge can be ensured.