Exploring solar energy's potential to serve smallholder farmers
Context In 2010, Devergy enters the off-grid energy market in Tanzania with smart PV-powered mini-grids. The product is an energy meter that allows its users to pay-for-use of the system whilst identifying faults independently through remote monitoring. Up to this point customers are extremely satisfied with the offering, enjoying a life that is easier, faster and more enjoyable. However, Devergy’s founders wondered if their innovative technology could be adapted and used to improve the lives of other target groups, specifically within the agriculture. The big question What is the potential of off-grid solar energy systems to serve different target groups within agriculture?
Approach In order to try and gain insight into a variety of potential target customers that could benefit from improved energy access Marketing for Impact conducted multiple qualitative interviews with NGOs and sector organizations as well as subsistence food crop farmers, horticulture farmers and dairy farmers. In addition to interviews, focus group discussions were completed with each different group of farmers and findings were delivered in the form of a written report.
Key research questions were focused on understanding:
The farmer’s challenges
The awareness and understanding of renewable energy
The potential role of renewable energy for agriculture
The potential Return on Investment of using renewable energy for agriculture
Result It was found that there were no obvious opportunities in working with subsistence food crop farmers, because they lacked capital and were therefore not willing to invest in technology with an uncertain return. There was some potential to increase horticulture farmer’s volumes through using renewable energy to improve pre-harvesting techniques. The biggest identified opportunity was to establish rural dairy collection centres, where milk could be kept cool through a PV powered grid.
As a result of the research, Devergy realised that expanding into new opportunities so soon after launch would be complex and may distract from executing their core strategy. Ultimately, the research succeeded in its goal, as it provided an in depth understanding of the markets of potential clients.