Zimbabwe: solar tricycles for peasant women’s journeys
For years, Danai Bvochora’s modest poultry farm was an ordeal: almost all the money earned from the sale of her eggs was used to pay for the collective taxi to go to the market.
Until a rust-colored electric tricycle, like a moped nested in an open trailer, powered by solar energy, came to change the game.
“We were carrying a lot on our heads. The tricycle lightens the burden,” smiles this 47-year-old peasant, from Domboshava, near the capital Harare, before a bumpy eight-kilometre journey with the machine.
Transport is scarce in the depopulated rural areas of the country.
“We even use it to go to mass!” enthused Danai, adding that a trip to fetch grain to feed her chickens used to cost the equivalent of twelve dollars. Against 2.5 to charge his tricycle every fortnight.
“Now my chickens bring me back”, rejoices the mother of the family who is part of the group of women, in this area known for its picturesque hills and its giant rocks, which received a tricycle last year financed by the European Union. to help small farmers.
Assembled in Harare by the social enterprise Mobility for Africa, these all-terrain three-wheelers have been around for three years in Zimbabwe, says its founder Shantha Bloemen.
Until then, the women walked for a long time, along the roads, their necks stiff under the weight of the goods balanced on their heads. Which sometimes rotted in the sun.
– Fresh my vegetables! –
Yet the arrival of these tricycles has raised some eyebrows, says the American who settled in Zimbabwe in the early 1990s, in the luggage of a UN agency.
“We were very alone at the beginning”, the team had to convince investors of the viability of the project. “No one then spoke of electric mobility in Africa, and even less to help women in the countryside,” explains the fifty-year-old.
Today, it is aiming for a rapid tripling of the fleet of 88 vehicles as well as the three stations currently powered by solar.
There, drivers can exchange their lithium battery for a fully charged one, and have the tricycles repaired free of charge if there is any breakage.
Some vehicles, nicknamed Hamba or “go” in the local Ndebele language, were bought by the EU and then offered to residents, others are rented for five dollars a day.
Phyllis Chifamba, 37, uses her rental “go” as a taxi. She takes the sick to the clinic, pregnant women to their follow-up appointments, farmers to do their shopping. “That way, I feed my family, I pay for my four children’s school.”
Mobility for Africa dreams of investing in other areas of the country. “If we could solve the transport problem, rural economies would work. Small farmers could come to market with more products,” explains Shantha Boemen.
Zimbabwe’s economy, seriously weighed down for twenty years, especially in rural areas, is mainly driven by the informal sector, like these peasant women in Domboshava.
Frasia Gotosa earns a better living since she goes to the market by tricycle. Because his vegetables no longer rot while waiting for the bus or in his wheelbarrow. “Now, when I arrive at the market, my produce is fresh,” she says with a hint of a smile.
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