Last Updated: May 30, 2022
The Collectives for Integrated Livelihoods Initiatives and Oorja Development Solutions, trailblazing agri-energy organisations working with smallholder farmers in India, have made it to the shortlist for Ashden Awards. This year the awards received 148 applications from across the world.
A release by Ashden says, “The Indian initiatives include Collectives for Integrated Livelihoods Initiatives helping tribal farmers swap polluting diesel generators for clean energy, cutting bills in half. And Oorja Development Solutions which trains people to set up and maintain community-led, solar-powered production hubs which bring pay-per-use irrigation, milling and cooling to farmers.”
Besides Oorja and CILI, the other organisations shortlisted are from Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Togo and Turkey. They both are part of a new wave of innovation showing how clean energy can power up entrepreneurship and inclusive development across low-income nations, creating opportunities even in the most marginalised communities.
Oorja is pioneering an inclusive pay-per-use model to provide an alternative to costly diesel through solar-powered farming services for low-income farmers. Users pay based on the volume of irrigation water used, the quantity of grains processed or produce stored in cold stores. The focus is on one-acre farmers earning less than USD 100 per month and disproportionately affected by climate change. Oorja aims to empower 10 million farmers globally by 2030.
We spoke to Clementine Chambon, Co-Founder and CTO at Oorja Solutions for a few quick questions.
SaurEnergy: Are your solar initiatives under government-sponsored subsidy programs or independent of those?
Oorja is a for-profit social enterprise registered in India and UK with operations in Northern states of India. Oorja’s clean energy services address the energy access need in the agriculture sector in weak-grid regions of the country. The company provides solar-powered services of irrigation, milling, and cooling to smallholder farmers on a pay-per-use business model. These farming services are not provided under any government-sponsored subsidy programs and Oorja independently installs, operates, and maintains these ag-energy services. We don’t rely on any public funding for the implementation of the solution and raise private funding for investment in the decentralised solar-powered infrastructure.
SaurEnergy: How are you tackling the challenge of maintenance for these setups?
Oorja operates using a Cluster Model in which one Cluster comprises 4 pumps, 1 mill, and 0.5 cold storages (only in the horticultural regions). To handle the maintenance of these clean energy decentralized units, Oorja hires people from the BoP community and trains them as Operators for daily operations and maintenance, customer servicing, and payment collections. Each Cluster is run by two or three Operators residing in the local village. In addition, our Project Engineer makes a monthly site visit to all the project sites and carries out any routine or corrective maintenance required. We have brought all engineering functions including installation and maintenance in-house, so we are not reliant on external suppliers for this. As these are solar systems, the maintenance requirements are minimal and all issues can usually be repaired within 1-2 business days. Some of our solar systems included remote monitoring and can be regularly monitored by mobile app to supervise the day-to-day functioning and our engineering team receives a notification in case of any technical issue.
SaurEnergy: How many solar-powered pumps/chillers/mills have you enabled thus far?
So far Oorja has deployed 48 solar irrigation pumps, 9 agro-processing mills, and 1 solar-powered cold storage in two districts in Uttar Pradesh (Bahraich and Shravasti), and in Muzaffarpur district, Bihar.
SaurEnergy: What is the most ambitious goal for the firm right now?
Oorja’s mission is to empower 10 million farmers globally by 2030 with the solutions they need to sustainably increase their income and quality of life. Our most ambitious goal right now is to offer digital advisory and input procurement services to complement our physical ag-energy services. We plan to launch on a farmer-friendly mobile app by the end of 2022. This will help farmers to leverage scientific techniques, high quality inputs and precise information to move towards climate-smart agriculture while doubling their incomes. Ashden is also running three awards focused on climate innovation in the UK this year. Shortlisted organisations in all six categories will undergo a rigorous assessment with judging from Ashden and sector experts. The 2022 international Ashden Award winners will be announced in Nairobi in October. Ashden CEO Harriet Lamb said, “Supercharging economies and raising incomes are just two of the many reasons for investing in energy access. But with 940 million people worldwide living without electricity, and 3 billion without safe cooking, it’s clear support for frontline innovators is falling short. A skill and training drought is one major obstacle to progress”.