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Stories from the Field: Electrifying Bhamramagiri

Coorg - IMG_20130520_112221The following snapshot is the third in a series of stories from the Electrifying Households and Schools project, which is a yearlong project that is supported by the Applied Materials Foundation. The project aims to address gaps in end-user financing that curtail the ability of low-income and marginalized households’ access to lighting and energy solutions and to provide schools with lighting and other educational aids.

Located in Southwest Karnataka in the Western Ghats, Coorg is an administrative district that is widely known for its pepper and coffee plantations as well as for its forests and wildlife sanctuaries. In a small settlement inside one of the protected forests there are about 60 homes belonging to members of a forest tribal community. The community’s relative isolation and the challenges of extending electrical lines from the grid into densely forested areas has meant that community residents had to rely on kerosene to meet their lighting needs. The community’s main sources of income are the collection and sale of honey and other natural forest products and from labor they perform as workers on the local coffee plantations. As plantation workers, the residents earn about Rs.6000 per month in the peak season.

S3IDF and SELCO’s partner organization, Shri Kshethra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP), a widely recognized community development organization, identified the forest community and approached its residents about their interest in solar lighting solutions as an alternative to their current kerosene usage. After several weeks of regular follow-up by SKDRDP community workers, the community decided to purchase lighting systems through a Self-Help Group (SHG) lending model. Under this model, SKDRDP organized the community members into a SHG and provided a loan for the group to purchase lighting systems. SELCO’s staff assessed their lighting needs and accordingly recommended a Solar Home Lighting System (SHLS) with 2 LED lights. Every member of the SHG pays Rs.80 per week to SKDRDP, an amount that was tailored to the residents’ cash flows. Today, over 60 households have their basic home lighting needs met through home lighting systems.