Clean energy gives back to islands

Members of a youth club from Macuata sell fish at the Labasa Market. While working with martime communities, an academic has found women to be the backbone of the success of the projects. Picture SUPPLIED

Members of a youth club from Macuata sell fish at the Labasa Market. While working with martime communities, an academic has found women to be the backbone of the success of the projects. Picture SUPPLIED

COMMUNITIES on islands rely on the sea for survival, that is a fact one cannot argue with.

To put things in a much clearer perspective, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, more than 40 per cent of the world’s oxygen comes from rain-forest, 50 per cent of chemical medicines are based on nature and 100 per cent of our food comes from nature.

For maritime islands, the sea has sustained them since their ancestors inhabited their group of islands.

The need for education and proper health treatment, in addition to meeting the families basic needs, is something these maritime villagers struggle to keep up with on a day-to-day basis mainly because of their geographical location and high transportation costs.

Less than five years ago the University of the South Pacific’s Faculty of Science Technology and Environment together with the French Government embarked on an initiative, that would not only save cost and ensure fish quality but also act as an incoming-generating project.

Renewable energy specialist Dr Atul Raturi said ever since their new solar system projects were initiated, there had been a lot of positive responses.

Dr Raturi said they travelled around the country, precisely to maritime areas, and found that many communities were still using kerosene lamps. Their initial findings was that it was an expensive exercise to transport their fish from places as far as Wainiika, Udu to Labasa Town.

In the evening, he said, not much work was done because they did not have proper lights.

“We asked them how much money they spent and they would tell us a certain amount and we told them, “if you put this money together you can have solar light”. And I always tell them ‘you know, it is expensive but it is worth every investment’.

“What they needed was the initial funding so with the French Government we had some help, and that was our first project.

“Then we went around the country informing them that we have this kind of small-scale projects.

“The lights project was very important because children could not stay up late at night and women could not work at night, so having this project brought in additional income, like they can work at night – weave and stuff like that.”

He said the first project at Wainiika on Vanua Levu, proved to be a success.

“They wanted a freezer because they could not store their fish. Because they were smoking fish and it was a half an hour boat ride and then a bus ride to Labasa, and by the time they reached Labasa, the quality of fish had dropped so it affects the price.

“There is plenty of fish that side, so we thought about it and there was no electricity anywhere, so we talked about what would be the best project for the place. We wanted to give them some light and charging of mobile phones, but mainly the freezers.

“So we decided to set up a solar-powered freezer system, which will also act as an income-generating project, that they charge a fee for someone who wants to use; charge the phone, keep fish in the freezer etc.

“So I was impressed with the chief, he started a system so it was not only Wainiika. It was like four or five villages nearby, started using the facility, they would bring their fish, they would pay a fee, so the system is running by itself.”

According to a report submitted in April 2016 (three months after the system was set up) by Epironi Ravusa the turaga ni yavusa o Cuku.

He said no harm done by Severe TC Winston to the Wainiika Solar Project. The project remained fully functional after devastating Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston as the strong winds did not have any major impact on the area.

The project has financially assisted the community. Since January 2016, the freezers have stored about two tonnes of fish with a value of $6000 which was income for the community.

Other income-generating activities (food storage costs and phone recharging services) have generated an estimated value of $2000 meaning the project generated around $8000 in revenua.

With 23 households in Wainika, on average, a household could generate $20 a week or $1040 in a year.

The main fish conservation method used in this community has been smoking which keeps the fish for only three-four days only. The freezers allow people to keep fish for longer periods. This allows people to cut down on food gathering time so there is more time for other work in the community.

Project supports community life. Income will help with village obligations towards the church, government and school commitments. These are important activities of village life and the project is expected to ease the associated burdens and raise the standard of living in the near future.

“I continue to acknowledge the caring support by the University of the South Pacific and the French Government for funding this project. I also thank Dr Raturi and Mr Alvin for your unwavering commitment to the success of this project,” Mr Ravusa said in a report about the project in 2016.)

Eroni Raqili, Daku Village development committee head on the island of Kia in Macuata, said in April last year: “Kia Island is quite isolated and accessibility is challenging.

“However the … freezer and solar energy power unit have brought relief and joy to our community as this takes away the tremendous burden of travelling all the way to Labasa. Moreover, with the availability of an operational freezer, we can now work to increasing our catch/ production and successfully maintain a constant supply to our customers.

“We have alreally made full use of the system and we have come to appreciate the kind and big assistance we have been given.

“Individual fish catches and community catches have been stored and kept in this system until ready for use and sold for individual monetary gain. Not only fish have been stored in the chest freezers, also we have stored other frozen foods.”

On the island of Kadavu Epeli Boteanakadavu, who is the caretaker for solar project at Tavuki said: “The system has also been used for other storage purposes and this has allowed for other sources of income for the community.

“Children and also adults have been able to have access to ice cream and ice blocks after school.

“We are now forming a committee to look after funds for the money collected from these sales and from fish storage.

“The communities have come to appreciate that most of the village and wider Tavuki tikina meetings and gatherings have been held in this community house as it has lights powered by the system. Our generator is usually on for mainly two hours per day thus the advantage of having the system in this house.

“Once again we wish to thank Dr Raturi, USP and the French Government for this big and kind aid that has really impacted on our daily lives.”

Dr Atul proudly stated that women had been the backbone to the success of the projects in Macuata (Udu, Mali and Kia), Tavuki on Kadavu and Yanuca Island in Serua.

He said the project had given the women some sense of ownership in addition to empowering and encouraging them.

“We chose on purpose remote islands, where it is really required and what we found that there were a lot of women in the villages and what we found that there was not much work.

“And one thing we saw, the women have been the brains and strength of these income-generating projects.

“In most of these places, women are members of the committee, they are running and keeping track of the money. So they work with the turaga ni koro. And what we have seen is in this kind of projects the women are very important, because they play a vital role.

“We are very happy that everywhere we go, it’s the women who are giving us the updates, and in some places it’s the women who go fishing and then store it in the fridge.

“This project has empowered women and given them more responsibilities. Before they thought they just sit and cook and look after the children, so again, this facility has a lot of opportunities, they can weave at night so it’s more income for the family.

“Definitely women are the backbone of the success, when we go to villages we always tell them, we want women to sit in these meeting and have a say. Women are more excited about these projects.

“Like in Mali, many young people have moved to urban areas like in Labasa and it is the women who are in the village.

Dr Raturi said one of the reasons that led to the success of the project was that local communities were willing to engage in such projects when they knew it would generate income.

“What we are trying to do is for these solar home systems, not only have energy at home but we also generating income out of it, and that should be the way out.

“If it is just for solar home system, without asking for any money, the appreciation of that thing does not come in. But when they see they can generate money out of it, work at night, run a freezer that can generate income.

“This is the advantage of it. We have done it and we can still do it in other places.”

Dr Raturi said in order for the Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved, energy would need to be the focal point for every discussion.

“SDG 7 is the one that looks after sustainable energy. What we see that, if you look at SDG 7 it relates to a lot more SDGs. If you look at poverty, education, health, climate change, energy is related to all of these, therefore energy is the focal point for all of these.

“We have been talking about SDG for a number of years, but energy is central, and it needs to be central, for now it has been corrected and energy has become central.”

According to Wikipedia: “The Sustainable Development Goals are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations.

“The broad goals are interrelated though each has its own targets to achieve.

“The total number of targets is 169. The SDGs cover a broad range of social and economic development issues. These include poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, environment and social justice.

“The SDGs are also known as ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ or 2030 Agenda in short.

“The goals were developed to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ended in 2015. Unlike the MDGs, the SDG framework does not distinguish between “developed” and “developing” nations. Instead, the goals apply to all countries.”