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Occasional  Paper 22: Renewables and Rural Energy Development in Botswana - Proceedings of a National Energy Policy Seminar

Edited by

Joseph E. Mbaiwa 


Executive  Summary

Although over 70% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa resides in the rural areas, the bulk of modern energy is consumed in urban areas. Most of the energy used in rural areas is in the form of traditional biomass, which includes natural organic fuels such as wood, charcoal, agricultural residues and animal wastes. The shortage of modern energy in rural areas has contributed to keeping rural communities stuck in a subsistence level economy characterised by inefficient use of non-commercial energy, low agricultural productivity and poor standards of living. The dependence on biomass has also led to pressure on wood resources. 

There is a strong link between provision of modern energy and rural development. Modern energy is considered to be a catalyst for development and can greatly promote the development of income generating activities through small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). These enterprises play a major role in promoting rural development, alleviating poverty and bridging the gender imbalance in rural areas. In recent years, researchers on gender and energy have acknowledged the importance of SMMEs in the empowerment of women. There is, however, contention over the type of energy services required to bring about increased participation in income generation activities by women.

The Botswana National Energy Seminar was held on the 19th-20th August 2002 at Cresta Lodge, Gaborone, Botswana and attracted participants from Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The theme of the seminar was “Renewables and Rural Energy Development in Botswana”, and the main objectives were to: 

  • Assess energy sources that are appropriate and affordable for rural areas.

  • Investigate gender related factors that influence energy use in rural areas for both households and businesses.

  • Identify options for promoting rural electrification.

  • Gain from regional experiences in the dissemination of modern energy in rural areas.

Background papers from Botswana, Ethiopia, Zambia, and South Africa were presented and they addressed the above-mentioned themes. From the papers presented, it was acknowledged that renewable energy sources could be harnessed to meet the immediate energy needs of the rural areas and other areas that could not be immediately connected to the grid. It was also noted that renewables could stimulate demand for electricity prior to grid extension.  

Another major finding from the seminar was that a decentralised private sector approach is more effective for the production and distribution of modern energy in rural areas for both income-generating activities and domestic use, than a public sector approach. In addition, it emerged that income-generating activities have a greater impact than domestic use on the promotion of modern energy in rural areas. The on-going power reforms were also noted as likely to increase opportunities for rural electrification in most African countries. Regarding gender, it was noted that despite the role that provision of modern energy can play in promoting gender related income-generating activities in the region, there was no policy framework to cater for gender concerns. Provision of modern energy alone was not sufficient to ensure that women become involved in income-generating activities. Other factors such as start up loans and skills on how to run and sustain businesses, were singled out as equally important.  

Some of the key issues identified as critical for the promotion and dissemination of modern energy in the rural areas of Botswana included: institutional restructuring; decentralisation; manpower development; balanced allocation of resources especially between grid based electrification and renewable energy resources; integration of gender activities in energy programs; and further research on the viable energy technology options in the country. 

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