UNDP’s 80kW solar mini-grid in Sitolo Village improves school children’s performance as they are able to study at night

* Community members, including women within Sitolo mini-grid, are benefiting from electricity

* We have seen women who have managed to move from using firewood which is hazardous to their health

* And the women spent hours looking for firewood — but this is not the case now—UNDP’s Africa Director, Ahunna Eziakonwa

By Moses Nyirenda, MANA

On tour of Sitolo Village’s 80kW solar mini-grid in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Ndawambe in Mchinji District, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Africa Director, Ahunna Eziakonwa  said they were pleased to learn how provision of electricity in the area has improved children’s performance at school as they are able to study during the night and teachers are also able to deliver their lessons at night.


Eziakonwa said her organisation is committed to supporting more solar energy solutions in the country in order to increase access to affordable and sustainable electricity among households in the country.

Eziakonwa said she is impressed with how community members, including women within Sitolo mini-grid, are benefiting from electricity — hence their commitment to increase the off grid electricity access in the country.

“We have seen women who have managed to move from using firewood which is hazardous to their health and they spent hours looking for firewood — but this is not the case now,” she said during the tour on Monday.

“I am impressed with the transition which has been made from using firewood to using hotplates, which does not have any pollution effects because when you cook with the biomass you pollute the environment but also you can get respiratory diseases form that.”

UNDP’s Africa Director, Ahunna Eziakonwa

Men at work using electricity

She also applauded people of Sitolo Village for conducting various businesses with the use of electricity generated at the mini-grid, saying: “Energy access should not only be about lighting houses but it should also be able to improve livelihoods.

“And that is what UNDP believes — to see a business person who is a carpenter using  electricity to make his work easier, faster and come up with much bigger production and make more money for him is very impressive,” she said.

She added that apart from supporting Malawi through the project — dubbed ‘Africa Mini-Grid Programme’, which UNDP launched with Global Environment Facility in 2023 at COP28 in Dubai — they are eager to extend mini-grid projects in over 18 African countries.

Through the Sitolo mini-grid, 3,640 people are accessing electricity through connections to 728 households in addition to 94 businesses.

Energy Minister Matola (in helmet)

Minister of Energy, Ibrahim Matola was part of the delegation and hailed UNDP for its commitment to supporting energy sector in the country. “We commend UNDP for their interest to support our energy sector,” he said.

“Currently, we have 180,000 households that have been waiting since 2016 and the UNDP support would help us to clear that backlog and also new connections which are coming.”

Last month, when Matola presided over tree planting season for Electricity Generation Company (EGENCO) in Neno, he pledged that the Ministry was enhancing the provision of electricity alternative power production that include provision of off-grid and mini-grid services for rural communities.

Minister Matola planting his tree seedling in Neno

This in turn will ease the burden of transmission of hydro generated power while at the same time, as the connectivity increases, so shall its electricity tariff decrease for city and town households to drop charcoal as their source of cooking energy.

He said the current 27% of the population’s connectivity to the national grid is inadequate, while also indicating that the 27% was an improvement over the past few years following several initiative government rolled out that include construction of solar panel plants onto the national grid.

This was after Secretary for Energy, Alfonso Chikuni told the gathering of the area’s community members and EGENCO partners that people in the rural areas are not the biggest consumers of charcoal.

Chikuni bemoaned that since time immemorial, most charcoal has been produced in rural areas — Neno being one big source — with targeted market being the city and town dwellers, which leads to wanton cutting down of trees — including in government reserved forests.

Weather update

EGENCO rolled out its tree planting initiative last year to mitigate challenges it faces at its hydro generation plants at Nkula, Tedzani and Kapichira, which are constantly being challenged with siltation and other debris from the Shire River because there are no trees to block them.

Thus EGENCO’s tree planting exercise to reafforest communities such as Lisungwi, whose Phwadzi River flows into Lisungwi and in turn feeds EGENCO’s main source of generating power, the Shire River.—Additional reporting by Duncan Mlanjira, Maravi Express