The story of Ashura Huruko.
An interview by Anne-Sophie Garrigou
This article was featured in The Beam #9 — Voices from the Global South. Subscribe to The Beam for more.
In Mbaya village, in Liwale District in Lindi, Tanzania, Ashura Huruko, a mother of two, and her husband Ahmad manage multiple micro-scale businesses. The arrival of a 30-kilowatt solar-powered mini-grid, provided by the Power Corner initiative, has enabled Ashura and other villagers to shift from polluting diesel to a cleaner, greener, solar-based energy source. For Ashura, this new supply brings in more work and boosts the family income. Diesel costs to run the dirty generator alternative are higher, and the convenience of the mini-grid power saves time in collecting fuel, which also allows the family businesses to operate for longer. This shift in energy use is crucial for growing Tanzania’s rural economies — advancing from electricity that lights homes, charges phones and powers radios, to energy that creates jobs, generates new business and improves livelihoods.
From welding to ice cream making, from selling popcorn to selling cold drinks, you have created a lot of businesses. Where does your passion for entrepreneurship come from?
The root of my passion started in 2015 when I realised the reality of women’s livelihood in my community, the way they worked and strived for their way up to conquer the burden of life without regarding their gender. These women gave me hope, especially those who make soap detergents, batiki fabrics and those who sell fish in the markets. From there I decided to join the movement to build a more sustainable livelihood with other women in my community.
Would you say that it was more complicated for you, being a woman, to create these businesses?
I sat down with my husband and told him that I wanted to be an entrepreneur so that I could help him with things like buying food and school books for our children; he understood and allowed me to proceed with the arrangements to reach my goal. Although there is still a belief in my community that for a woman to become an entrepreneur is a complete waste of time as it prevents her to fulfil her home duties. But as a woman, it is important to keep your head high and move forward.
What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome in this entrepreneurial journey?
The first challenge I went and am still going through is the accessibility of market to sell my products; not that there isn’t a marketplace at all but it’s far from where I live which makes it difficult and expensive. When I started the welding business, I was also using a generator, which resulted in undeniably high diesel costs. The generator was also malfunctioning most of the time and hiring a repairman from the district was always very expensive. My ice cream business was also challenging because ice cream trays are only available in Dar Es Salaam, which is far from where I live, so that became impossible. We now have access to electricity in our village, but sometimes when I buy electricity, it takes time to receive a feedback message with the tokens and as a result, I have to delay the welding productions for my customers.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I decided to quit the ice cream business and focus more on the popcorn business. It’s easy to get the corn from the district, and I started using Power Corner electricity for my welding activities, which makes my work much easier. I now deliver to my customers on time, and it’s much better than when I was using a generator.
“There is still a belief in my community that for a woman to become an entrepreneur is a complete waste of time as it prevents her to fulfil her home duties. But as a woman, it is important to keep your head high and move forward.”
How has the mini-grid electricity system installed in your village changed the way you operate your businesses?
The installation of the mini-grid electricity system has revolutionised our village a lot. In the past, I was using a generator in my welding business, but the fuel was expensive. Now I use Power Corner electricity. Although the electricity costs are high, I can do my work in a shorter period and deliver to my customers on time. After the training in Dodoma, I started a popcorn business and convinced other women to advance in the popcorn business through electricity instead of charcoal stoves, which they used before. Also, now that I have light in my house, I can make soap detergents in the evening, and save time in the afternoon.
How are you contributing to raising awareness about entrepreneurship in your community?
In 2016, I participated in The Energy Change Lab training in Dodoma. That’s where I learned how to generate income through energy sources. It was also an opportunity to see how other entrepreneurs in Dodoma were using Rafiki Power electricity to operate their businesses. When I went back to my village, I did a tour in my community to talk to people about what I learned in Dodoma. I told my fellow women to have no fear of using electricity for their businesses and encouraged them to contact Energy Change Lab to get more information. Thankfully the number of people using Power Corner electricity for their businesses has now increased a little.
In your experience, what would you say are the main benefits of fostering productive uses of energy for sustainable livelihood?
The electricity installation has made our village glow at night compared to a few years ago when we had no power. Our children can now study at night without a problem because we have light bulbs at home. Electricity accessibility in our village has also encouraged citizens to engage themselves in entrepreneurship more, rather than only depending on agriculture as their main source of income.
How is climate change affecting your life and to the people in your community?
Climate change has affected me and the entire community because there hasn’t been enough rain in the last year. It feels like we are living in a desert and the availability of food is uncertain, which leads to instability of crops prices in the markets. This has resulted in low income for the villagers, which affects me in return because it means people won’t be able to buy my products.
Do you feel like awareness towards climate change is rising in your community? Is this something people talk about?
Our community doesn’t really understand the concept of climate change but they understand that there is a problem because of the rain scarcity. Our community does not understand why it is happening and what to do so that it won’t happen again. You will always find people in groups talking about rain and the consequences that resulted from the rain scarcity but that’s it, nothing more! Awareness towards climate change is needed, the community needs to know what to do in order to prevent climate change but also how to cope with the effects of climate change.