Here Comes the Sun – Solar lamps bring clean light and learning to tea farmer families

23rd September 2019

The arrival of solar lamps and products to Malawi tea estates has brought a quiet revolution for the tea farmers and their families. Now able to study in the hours of darkness, the children can read for longer, increasing their ability to learn and because they can study at night, extended opportunity for play during the daylight hours.

Almost 90% of Malawians and the majority of tea farmers lack access to grid electricity.

Solar energy has had an equally profound effect on the tea farmers themselves. On a practical level, the lamps reduce carbon emissions and save money as there is no need to purchase paraffin, a fossil fuel, or batteries needed for traditional lighting options. They mean better health as there’s no risk of respiratory illness that can be caused by polluting paraffin lights. They are also safer – a knocked-over paraffin light is a very serious fire hazard.

Hear from Martha, Malawi

But access to solar energy also offers opportunity for life-enriching activities too such as listening to sport and news the radio or for charging mobile phones. One farmer and his wife love to dance together to the music they hear on the radio.

Hear from Beno, Malawi

Patricia Tansi is a small-scale tea farmer. She says her son was able to improve his place in class results from 20th to 3rd place directly as a result of the family acquiring a solar lamp.

Patricia purchased a solar lamp through the Ethical Tea Partnership interest-free loan scheme and can bear witness to the difference it has made to her and her children’s lives:

“The light is bright enough for my children to read by it at night. They read for longer now and I have seen a great improvement in their schoolwork”.

Once the loan is paid back there is no further expenditure on batteries or fuel which makes a big difference to smallholder households.

Solar lamps also mean a safer and healthier environment for the families:

“I have heard a lot of people talk about accidents with paraffin lamps and that used to worry me. Children can forget it is on and fall asleep. Paraffin lamps also lead to chest infections”.

She explains: “This solar lamp is very good news – it brings only joy and happiness”.

ETP’s solar project through Malawi Tea 2020, supported by Taylors of Harrogate, Tata Consumer Products and IDH – the Sustainable Trade Initiative, aims to improve access to affordable, clean lighting and mobile phone battery charging options for tea farmers.

To date, over 2,600 solar products have been purchased by the Malawi farmers through a special ETP-backed interest-free loan scheme.