Micro-Hydro Powers Rural Development in Cameroon
World Rivers Review, August 2006
It is cooking time in Bansoa, and rush-hour for Mrs. Tagme at her corn mill and cassava grater. She offers her services to other women in the small village situated in the hilly West Province of Cameroon. Her corn mill and cassava grater are the only ones within a 5-kilometer radius. A small Pelton turbine connected with pipes to the creek behind her house turns her mill. In the evening she connects it to a generator for electricity. Her children use the light for additional learning hours; she listens to the radio and can even offer TV evenings to friends.
The Pelton turbine is produced in the major regional town, Bafoussam, by local technicians, using local materials. The technicians have been brought together by ADEID, a local NGO that has been working for 15 years on small hydropower solutions.
In Baleng, 5 km west of Bafoussam, two communities organized as Community Group Initiatives (known by its French acronym, GICs) are building their own micro-hydro installations. The German Protestant Church Development Service supports them with loans for the high initial investments. The villagers are contributing as well. When electricity production starts, every consumer contributes monthly to pay back the loan. After the loan is paid off, the monthly contribution can be used for maintenance or other development efforts in the villages.
Technically, micro hydro is not very complicated. If the terrain is steep, even small rivers can produce electricity with a Pelton turbine. If the slopes are gentle, a waterwheel can do the work. ADEID is looking to introduce more complex turbine designs to local technicians, as well as increase the capacity of installations.
Currently, 96% of Cameroon’s grid-based electricity comes from large dams located on the same river system, the upper Sanaga River. This increases vulnerability to changing rainfall patterns from climate change. Droughts in 2002 gave a taste of things to come.
Local electricity solutions are the only chance for rural areas. Since the privatization of Cameroon’s electric utility in 2001, the prices of electricity have gone up; connection costs are often unbearable, and new electrification is concentrated on urban areas.
It is evening in Bansoa. In most houses candles or oil lanterns bring some light. Mrs. Tagme and her neighbors are using energy-saving light bulbs. The children are studying longer. Her son will open a bar and her daughter continues maintaining the mill and grater, and with the incoming money she is going to open a small kiosk. Electricity is bringing new ideas into rural Africa.
The authors are with Action for an Equitable, Integrated, and Sustainable Development / Action pour un Developpement Equitable Integre et Durable, ADEID