Innovations in technologies key to improving economy, livelihoods

May 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

THE revival and growth of the Zimbabwean economy can be achieved through investing in information communication technology for agriculture, health and energy, a top mobile telecommunication provider has said.

Byron Mutingwende

To this end, Econet Wireless Limited, Zimbabwe’s largest telecommunication services provider, has devised innovative products in the above sectors in response to calls by the government to conform to its economic blueprint – Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset).

“ZimAsset requires that we invest in programmes that bring sustainable development and social equity anchored on indigenisation, empowerment and employment creation which will be largely propelled by the judicious exploitation of the country’s abundant human and natural resources to use President [Robert] Mugabe’s words,” said Douglas Mboweni, Econet chief executive officer, while officially launching the Energise-the-chain programme at Nhowe Mission Hospital in Murewa, Mashonaland East province, recently.

The programme is an Eco-health initiative which will see Econet installing refrigerators at its network boosters in order to store vaccines for children at optimum temperatures.

“Measles, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, whooping cough, diphtheria and tetanus claim many lives of children below five years of age. The high mortality rate can be reduced or avoided if children are immunised using vaccines available at clinics and hospitals countrywide.

“However, due to intermittent power outages the country is currently experiencing, most of these vaccines expire when they are exposed to extremely high temperatures. To counter this, we have entered into an arrangement with the government to install refrigerators to store the vaccines at optimum temperatures when such power outages occur,” Mboweni said.

Econet has large diesel-powered generators that switch on automatically when electricity power cuts occur. This way vaccines stored at the boosters will not go bad hence the programme was envisaged to improve children’s health to a greater extent, Mboweni said.

According to Econet chief technical officer Bernard Fernandez, base stations were being redesigned to contain two vaccine refrigerators which are powered by batteries. He said the project was now part of ministry of health’s expanded immunisation programme.

“We expect to install the refrigerators at 110 base station sites countrywide. A SIM card data logger is put into the vaccines refrigerator to tell the state of the temperature and whenever the door will be opened. The information will be sent to base station managers who will in turn report to head office in Harare.

“On the other hand, nurses will be instantly updated on whether the refrigerator doors were left open. During a power failure, nurses will only be allowed to open the refrigerator to remove or return vaccines. That will the vaccines will be kept safely,” Fernandez said.

NGOs like Medicines San Frontiers (MSF) and Save the Children have also partnered Econet and the government with community based organisations encouraged to follow suit.

Speaking at the same occasion, Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa urged Econet to replicate the programme in all the country’s ten provinces in order to save children’s lives since they were the future of the country.

Crop cover insurance panacea to effects of drought in farming communities
Zimbabwe has been importing food from other countries mainly due to drought-induced food shortages and poor agricultural practices.

To counter the problem, Econet launched the Ecofarmer programme in September 2013. This is a mobile phone-based platform where the company provides information on farming tips, market prices and any other agronomic educational materials to its subscribers.

One of the successful programmes under the Ecofarmer project is the crop cover insurance scheme. Members join the scheme with $2,50 or $10 depending on their affordability. If the area from which the farmer hails receives below 2,5mm rainfall for 24 consecutive days during the rainy season between November 15 and April 30, members will be eligible to receive cash or inputs as cover. This also applies when the area receives excessive rainfall that can affect crop yield.

“For $10 the farmer will be paid out a sum of $100 which is enough to buy a tonne of maize that will be enough staple food until the next rainy season. For $2,50 a farmer will be paid $25 which is enough to buy a 10kg bag of maize seed,” said Godwin Mashiri, head of Econet Insurance, during a payout done to 23 members from Mutoko on Wednesday.

“The programme is good since it helps us to grow crops with the assurance of reaping some benefits in spite of possibilities of future droughts.

This is also a self-funded and initiated programme since I would have contributed premiums to cushion possible disasters and risks. It’s unlike when we used to depend on food handouts from NGOs without our own input to change our situation for the better,” said Loice Chimhanda (51) from Zimora village under Chief Mutoko, a beneficiary of Ecofarmer crop insurance scheme.

Tap into the sun for energy
Zimbabwe is endowed with abundant sunshine and calls to tap into solar as an alternative source of energy are improving.

Solar energy is being used in schools, hospitals, homes and offices to provide heat and lighting. More often than not, solar is the cheaper and most convenient energy source especially in rural and peri-urban areas.

Cognisant of the need to provide alternative energy source, Econet has introduced Eco Solar programme. To achieve this, Econet is providing solar powered accessories which include solar bulbs, radios and candles.

These devices come with batteries and a solar panel which supplies power to the home power station. The energy is stored in the home power station and distributed through USB ports to the devices. Solar bulbs provided by Econet can last for eight hours a day. Customers are encouraged to make sure that they fully charge their batteries in order to use the gadgets for longer hours in the event of electricity power outages.

Mashonaland East provincial agricultural extension officer Walter Mugabe described the crop cover payout to farmers affected by drought as an end of season performance review field day.

“Personal and farming improvement are not possible without a thorough understanding of one’s performance, where one went wrong, and how one can improve. In this regard, there is no other better to review the farm’s performance than at the end of the season.

“Although farmers are used to green crop field days, I would want to comment Agritex and Eco Farmer for piloting the concept of the end of the season performance review field day as this is the best time to take stock of one’s performance,” Mugabe said.

Mugabe said the trend towards drier seasons was an increasing phenomenon particularly in climatic regions four and five. He blamed global warming for causing a situation whereby seasons were starting much later and finishing much earlier with mid-season dry spells becoming more unpredictable.

“All these are characteristic of the much talked-about climate change. The impacts of climate change are more devastating in rural Africa, where farmers typically depend on agriculture, which for most farmers is rain-fed. As a result, in many years, farmers fail to get a meaningful harvest.”

Platforms and strategies to address food-shortage induced crises needed
Droughts lead to food shortages that induce pressure on governments and development agencies to feed food insecure vulnerable households, thereby creating crises situations. This calls for the development of alternative platforms and strategies to address the challenges.

“The use of drought resistant varieties, selection of early maturing varieties and production of drought tolerant crop types, as well as early planting are evidently some of the best approaches to reduce the impacts of climate change,” Mugabe said.

He said in Mutoko, farmers who planted with the early rains had the most crop compared to those who planted late. Mugabe urged farmers from the area to take all necessary steps to ensure that they will be always ready to plant by the time the first effective rains fall.

A first of its kind in Southern Africa, crop cover is a weather indexed insurance against low or excessive rainfall by Eco farmer, George Nyashanu, Econet insurance CEO said.

Handing over $100 cheque payouts to nine farmers and $25 to 13 others which saw a total premium of $1, 250 being paid by Econet in the maiden payout, Isaiah Nyangari, Econet chief marketing officer encouraged other farmers in the area to follow suit in order to cushion themselves against the ravages of drought in future.

“We have seen farmers who against the discouragement of friends and relatives felt that insuring their crops against drought was a necessary move being rewarded for their faith in Eco farmer. I would want to congratulate these farmers for making this bold move. Today you are the envy of your neighbours and you will not trouble government or donors for food aid,” Nyangari said.

Chief Nechombo – Ngoni Nyamukondiwa from Mutoko district, called upon donors and development agencies to partner Eco farmer by subsidising insurance costs for the poorest members of the various communities who want to join the weather indexed insurance scheme offered by Econet.

Comments are closed.