World · August 4, 2022

Solar powered tricycles lighten the load on Zimbabwe’s smallholder farmers

For years, selling eggs was a joyless business for Danai Bvochora as most of the money she earned went to cover minibus fares to the market in a rural area of ​​Zimbabwe.

That was until a solar-powered electric tricycle changed things for the better.

“We used to carry loads on our heads. The tricycle lightened the load,” said the 47-year-old from Domboshava, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.

Carefully load the eggs onto the tricycle trailer before embarking on a bumpy five-mile drive to the market.

“We also use it to go to church and worship,” Bvochora said, explaining that a single trip to buy chicken feed from a local mall cost her about 12 euros. But charging her new solar-powered vehicle only earns her about € 2.50 every two weeks, and the mother of two is now making a profit.

Bvochora is part of a group of women in Domboshava, a district renowned for its picturesque hills and giant boulders, who received a tricycle last year as part of an EU-funded project to assist small farmers.

Assembled by Harare-based social enterprise Mobility for Africa, three-wheeled off-roaders were first introduced in Zimbabwe in 2019 to help women develop their businesses, said company director Shantha Bloemen.

Transportation has historically been inadequate in Zimbabwe’s sparsely populated rural areas, where women often have to travel long distances carrying heavy loads on their heads to trade products, which sometimes ruin the road due to the heat.

Electric thrust

But the idea of ​​tackling the problem with three-wheeled electric vehicles initially raised some concerns, said Bloemen, an American-born, who has lived in the country since the 1990s when she came to work for UNICEF.

“She was very lonely when we started,” she said, explaining that her team had to work hard to prove to lenders that the idea was feasible. “Nobody was talking about electric mobility in Africa let alone rural women”.

Three years later, the social enterprise plans to triple its current fleet of 88 motor vehicles by the end of 2022. It operates three solar-powered stations, where drivers can come and replace their lithium battery with a full one. charge during the run out of power – and pays the bill when something breaks.

Zimbabwe has faced difficult economic conditions for more than two decades, with rural areas hard hit. The country’s economy is mainly driven by the informal sector, to which these peasant women from Domboshava belong.

While some of the three-wheelers – nicknamed “Hamba” or “go” in the local Ndebele language – were bought by the EU and then given away to locals, others are rented for € 5 a day.

Phyllis Chifamba, 37, a mother of four, uses her hired vehicle as a taxi. Her clients include sick people who go to a clinic, pregnant women who undergo medical checks, and villagers and peasants who go shopping and other errands.

“I am able to provide food for my family and pay school fees for my children with the money I make using the Hamba,” she said.

Mobility for Africa said it was planning to expand operations to other areas.

“African women are the most entrepreneurial, the most productive, but nobody takes them seriously,” Bloemen said. “If we solve the transport problems, rural economies will work. Small farmers will put more products on the market.”

Beneficiary Frasia Gotosa said her small business has improved since driving to the market as her vegetables no longer rot while waiting for the bus or pushing a wheelbarrow.

“Now I arrive at the market while my products are still fresh,” he said.

See the full Euronews report in the player above.