How Oikocredit partner Weziza is improving access to electricity in Benin

How Oikocredit partner Weziza is improving access to electricity in Benin

benin-weziza-oiko-lissac11.jpg07 December | 2023

Status check: Two and a half years after Oikocredit invested in the off-grid enterprise Weziza, we look at how better access to electricity is supporting economic development in West Africa. New mini-grids have created a positive impact for more than 2,500 households and 15,000 people.

In April 2021,Oikocredit invested €1.4 million in Weziza, an off-grid distributed energy enterprise in Benin, to help bring electricity to 40,000 people in the West African nation.

Just 42% of Benin’s population has access to electricity, according to the World Bank. That puts it below the average for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, where the electrification rate is 47.5%.

Weziza is a subsidiary of Energicity, a global energy transition company offering solar solutions to clients in emerging markets.

For an update on Weziza’s work in Benin, Oikocredit sat down with Inès Ekagnon, its head of customer operations and business development, Vincenzia Winsou, the enterprise’s community manager and area manager in Djida and Aplahoué, and Émile Tokémé, an area technician in Takpachiomey.

The interview was conducted in French and has been translated below.

Can you tell us about your mission at Weziza Benin?

Inès Ekagnon: Weziza's mission is to give Benin's periurban and rural population access to electricity through innovative mini-grid solutions. Beyond that, Weziza aims to be a model of innovation and development for Benin. As head of customer operations and business development, my role is to develop strategies to engage and build loyalty with the communities we serve, from the project development phase through to the construction of the mini-grids and their operation.

Vincenzia Winsou: As a community manager, I'm involved right from the inception of each electrification project, from the start-up phase through the growth phases to the maturity phase. I present the details and benefits of the project to the local council before sharing them with the communities. At the same time, my team and I educate people about electrical hazards so they can avoid incidents. They can ask me questions if they need to.

Émile Tokémé: I'm a community technician in Takpachiomey, my home village. I was recruited to build the mini-networks and then joined the team as a technician. It's a real opportunity for me and my family, because despite my diploma, I had been forced to work in the fields.

How does your mission relate to the current situation in Benin?

Inès: In Benin, only 53.9% of the urban population has access to electricity, compared with just 6.6% in periurban and rural areas. Some regions of the country are not even included in programmes aimed at expanding access to electricity, which means they will not have electricity for at least the next decade. We have identified the departments of Zou, Collines and Couffo as the best places to implement our solutions, because these areas have great economic and health potential, but they are unable to develop without electricity.

Vincenzia: In fact, many villages in Benin do not have access to electricity. We did a tour of the country to identify them. For the time being, 40 sites are to be electrified, and we're going to add other localities from 2024.

How did local communities respond to your arrival?

Vincenzia: It wasn’t easy at first, because some operators had already launched projects to deliver electricity without actually going ahead with the project. The people I met didn’t believe in us. I had to convince them with solid arguments and set deadlines for our work, which we scrupulously respected. In the end, thanks to our approach, our customers who were no longer working – because of a lack of electricity – were able to resume their activities.

Emile: Weziza’s arrival changed everything in Takpachiomey, where I live and work, because we no longer live in darkness. There are fewer cattle thefts in the evenings, and people can go about their business: sell fish or meat because they can use a freezer, for example, or work as welders or millers. This strengthens the economy.

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How are financial inclusion and social responsibility integrated within Weziza?

Inès: We integrate them by offering diversified payment solutions so clients can take advantage of our facilities. For example, the equipment rental system means that payments can be spread out according to the means of each subscriber. Similarly, we offer a financing programme for women, where they pay XOF 1,000 for an electricity connection instead of XOF 17,000. The remaining XOF 16,000 can be paid later.

Vincenzia: The social impact of our initiatives is also important as the economic impact. When I visited some communities, there was no trades because you would have had to move to the city to work. Today, thanks to access to electricity, access to equipment and our support, I hear our customers and subscribers say things like, “We’ve increased our profit margins” and “We’ve increased our turnover.” I notice that people are happier and more fulfilled, and that means a lot to me.

How has Oikocredit’s financing helped you in concrete terms?

Inès: The investment we have received from Oikocredit is helping us to achieve our objectives, such as setting up 20 mini-grids. It is also helping us finance access to materials and equipment needed for production, and to implement our leasing programme, which allows households to use freezers or electric mills for a flat fee. Thanks to Oikocredit’s investment, we have now installed a large proportion of the mini-grids, with a positive impact on more than 2,500 households and 15,000 people. We have registered 520 active customers, including 91 women.

Vincenzia: Indeed, we have been able to benefit from installations: electric mills, batteries, solar panels, power poles… In the technical room where I am now, we have 72 batteries and 60 solar panels, for example. Increasing our capacities thanks to funding also allows us to support maintenance. In cases of failure, which is rare but not impossible, we have a toll-free number from Monday to Friday so people can alert us and we can react quickly. I can be reached personally on weekends if needed.

Let’s talk about equipment financing. Can you tell us more about electric mills and their potential in Benin?

Inès: Previously, diesel-powered mills were used in the areas we work in. These mills are generally far from the village and very polluting. We were able to deploy electric mills instead after carrying out field studies, identifying suppliers, purchasing equipment and training the local population.

The benefits are undeniable: women no longer have to travel miles to grind their cereals or maize, as they have a mill at their disposal that also emits no carbon dioxide. Similarly, thanks to these mills, which require very little maintenance compared with diesel-powered mills, we have saved up to 35% on maintenance costs. Finally, mill users can also increase their income with the equipment (by way of running a small mill operation, for example).

Thanks to Oikocredit, we plan to deploy at least 16 electric mills in the near future.

A final word. Do you have any hopes or expectations for future initiatives?

Inès: We hope that the collaboration with Oikocredit will be a lasting one so that we can continue to improve the economic, health, social and educational systems in these areas.

Vincenzia: Our aim is to provide access to electricity in additional localities in 2024. The machine never stops at Weziza!

Émile: I'm thinking of regulating the price of Khw so that farmers, whose income is irregular, can bear the costs better. An electricity drilling project for agriculture could also be relevant in Benin.

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