All Sun, No Smoke

Kamanepla Multi-Purpose Cooperative sees the solar energy lamps social enterprise its social enterprise continuing to build the community by improving

IN TULUNAN, Cotabato Province, nearly half of households have no access to electricity. They pay a lot for light—as much as Php350 a month for kerosene to light their homes and small businesses. What they get in exchange is poor, inefficient illumination, and, significant carbon pollution.

And they pay in other ways. Women and children in these households who breathe kerosene fumes could be inhaling the equivalent of smoke from 2 packs of cigarettes a day.

This motivated Kamanepla Multi-Purpose Cooperative, a farmers’ co-op in Tulunan, to launch a social enterprise in 2009 to sell solar energy lamps to households. Peace and Equity Foundation and the Philippine Government’s Department of Energy provided financing assistance. PEF and Kamanepla were previous partners in microlending and organic rice trading projects.

“We saw [in solar energy] a social and business opportunity that can help not just our members but the community,” explains Cesar Gran, 46, Kamanepla chairman. “Solar lamps can help students do their homework. The lamps also protect the environment and help mitigate climate change.”

After repaying the first loan, Kamanepla applied for new financing to extend the solar energy project for three more years (2012 to 2015). Peace and Equity Foundation approved Php3.5 million for the extension. The target is to make available at affordable terms different types of solar energy light products to a total of 730 households.

“Our solar project now covers six municipalities,” says Jorge Mondia, 48, co-op manager. “We’ve provided solar lamps to around 300 households. Some families even bought two units.” Most buy the units in cash. Those who can’t are given up to six months to pay in installments at less than 20 pesos a day. Mondia says the co-op repossesses the units of those who fail to complete their payments. The co-op then resells these at a discount mostly to co-op members.

Kamanepla officers say the solar lamps are a boon to households with livelihoods. Co-op manager Mondia points to those with sarisari (neighborhood variety stores), roadside barbecue stalls, and carinderia (ambulant eatery). “They can keep on selling at night because they have bright solar lamps. Fish vendors tell us they now sell almost all of their fish because the solar lamps show customers whether the fish is still fresh or not. Rice farmers also say their workers can continue threshing the rice even in the evening.”

Co-op chairman Cesar Gran tells of a friend, a public school teacher, who bought a solar lamp from the co-op because of the daily 1-hour power outages in her neighborhood. Now, she can continue making her lesson plans for the next day’s classes. Gran also says that during these outages, neighborhood stores with solar lamps from Kamanepla are the only ones that manage to stay open.

In the long term, the cooperative sees its social enterprise continuing to build the community by improving livelihoods and enhancing family welfare. Says Mondia: “After 10 years, we hope our solar energy project will result in children with good classroom records. That will be the legacy from their parents and from Kamanepla. That will be the foundation for the next generation of leaders of our community.”