Power to the people: advancing solar energy in Burkina Faso (Story of Change)

Lightnings coming down from a storm cloud.

This story describes how the Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) programme, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and led by SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, partnered with three civil society organisations (CSOs) to revitalise demand for renewable energy in Burkina Faso.

It features how, by devising a successful, two-pronged strategy and taking an evidence-based approach to advocacy, the V4CP CSOs managed to anchor renewable energy as a priority within both national and regional government institutions and ensure that a renewable energy curriculum was included in the country’s education system.

Thanks to their efforts, there have been fundamental changes in educational institutions and a rewiring of attitude within the ministries responsible for technical and vocational training. This year, thousands of young people are being trained as renewable energy professionals across Burkina Faso. As they qualify, increased access to advice, installation and maintenance services will boost the popularity of renewable energy systems in one of the least electrified countries in the world where only 3% of the rural population has access to electricity. Not only will this bring sustainable power to millions of homes and businesses, it will kick start the process for better regulation across the solar energy sector.

This is their story.

Declining demand for solar energy

On starting its renewable energy programme in Burkina Faso in 2016, the V4CP programme began by assessing the sector’s performance. It found that after the government had reduced the price of solar equipment by making it Custom Taxes and Value Added Taxes (VAT) exempt in 2013, demand had soared. However, its popularity had dropped in subsequent years.

On analysis, it came to light that while solar energy systems were readily available, many people did not know how to use them properly. There were hardly any technical and vocational courses on offer to train mid-level specialists to install and maintain the systems, or to provide advice on the right types of products to buy. Poor cooperation between regional council leaders and national ministries, and between the ministries responsible for energy, education and youth, had resulted in poor service provision and a subsequent decline in demand.

Alliances for change

The V4CP programme partnered with three CSOs that worked on renewable energy in Burkina Faso: Association for Natural Resources and Wildlife Management (AGEREF/CL); the Catholic Organisation for Development and Solidarity Dedougou (OCADES-Dédougou); and the Albert Schweitzer Ecological Centre of Burkina Faso (CEAS). It then set about researching the state-of-play of the renewable energy sector at both local and national levels. The first study, conducted by the CSOs with the support of the V4CP programme in June 2017, provided evidence that no mid-level training in renewable energy existed in Burkina Faso. The second study, published in November 2017, analysed the status of renewable energy training on a local level. It revealed a lack of qualified human resources and the non-existence of renewable energy regulations or quality controls.

Following a series of capacity development sessions conducted by the V4CP programme, the CSOs developed an evidence-based change strategy that targeted regional and national authorities and institutions in tandem. Key to the success of this strategy was a plan to pinpoint a person to act as a conduit within each of the three ministries involved in renewable energy training: the Ministry of Energy; the Ministry of National Education and National Languages Promotion (MENA/PLN); and the Ministry of Youth and Youth Entrepreneurship Promotion (MJPEJ). Also crucial to success was the way in which the CSOs teamed up with others to form a large and powerful coalition called the National Civil Society Organisations Coalition for Renewable Energy Promotion in Burkina Faso (CNPDER-BF).

Revitalising national demand

Within months, the CSOs had started a national advocacy programme calling for more vocational courses to train people to become renewable energy specialists. To achieve this, it was essential to improve coordination across the three ministries.

On 17th November 2017, the CSOs organised a discussion workshop in Koudougou to bring the ministries together, along with private and public training schools. Together, they discussed the obstacles hindering the development of a curricula for renewable energy in Burkina Faso. They agreed there was an urgent need to introduce reforms to boost the solar energy sector and to work more closely together. “We discovered that each of the ministries was developing projects linked with vocational training in renewable energy. Thus, it was important to set up a permanent consultation framework,” said Ivana Soma, who is responsible for gender and social inclusion at AGEREF/CL.

Following the workshop, MENA/PLN stepped up its support for degree-level professional training in solar energy. The 2019-2020 school year saw the start of the first Professional Baccalaureate in renewable energy with option to take electricity and solar equipment installation.

Students during practical session of Professional Baccalaureate in Solar Energy

Students during practical session of Professional Baccalaureate in Solar Energy

Djourmité Nestor Noufe, Director Advocacy and Resource Mobilisation at ANEREE

Djourmité Nestor Noufe, Director Advocacy and Resource Mobilisation at ANEREE

Crucially, the CSOs also helped fast track the operationalisation of the National Agency for Renewable Energy and Energetical Efficiency (ANEREE), a dedicated agency for renewable energy that opened on 16th November 2019. They helped inspire the newly formed ANEREE to establish a partnership with JOB BOOSTER to train 5,000 young people in renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs in 2019.

“Though the creation of the National Agency for Renewable Energy and Energetical Efficiency (ANEREE) was already planned by the government, the advocacy conducted by CSOs has particularly sped up the adoption of the statutes of the agency. Its role will be to regulate the renewable energy sector and help quality norms to be applied to products and services of this sector in Burkina Faso,” said Djourmité Nestor Noufe, the Director responsible for advocacy and resources mobilisation at ANEREE.

Revitalising regional demand

In parallel to their national work, the coalition set an advocacy campaign in motion to engage regional leaders. Fundamental to its success was their recognition that the unified voice of regional leaders would have a significant influence on the national government. In addition, their engagement would help ensure that any national initiatives would be implemented and supported at local level, through measures such as setting up renewable energy regulations and support for schools in certain regions.

In 2016, a group of V4CP CSO representatives visited the Regional Council Leader (RCL) of Boucle du Mouhoun. After a series of discussions, the RCL expressed his interest in considering renewable energy in the Regional Development Plans (RDPs). This interest was later translated into a commitment and he became a powerful ally for the CSOs as he convinced other RCLs of the importance of prioritising renewable energy.

His influence contributed to the success of an unprecedented national meeting, organised by the V4CP CSOs and the CNPEDER-BF coalition in Bobo Dioulasso in June 2019. The event gathered RCLs of all of the thirteen regions of the country for the first time. As a result, the RCLs developed a collaborative roadmap and committed to consider renewable energy options in future RDPs. They also agreed to advocate for its introduction within the training curricula of technical and vocational schools in the regions, and to request the national government to transfer human and financial resources to the regional energy sector.

CSOs’ strategy to start by inspiring one RCL proved to be a successful way to engage others. It resulted in the RCLs sending a powerful, collaborative message to the national government that they supported the uptake of renewable energy.

Towards a sustainable future

After four years of advocacy, the synergy of actors through coalition building and the CSO’s idea to have focal points within the ministries and renewable energy departments have eased the access to authorities and made many meetings and activities possible.

Thanks to the V4CP programme, the CSOs’ capacities have been continuously strengthened throughout this time. This has built their ability to implement a coordinated strategy supported by solid evidence, and to raise a powerful, unified voice on renewable energy. In doing so, they have supported the Government of Burkina Faso in bringing power to the people by developing the services and standards required to make renewable energy a viable and attractive option for millions.

Today, a pilot project for the new first Professional Baccalaureate course in renewable energy is taking place in Dori, the capital of the Sahel Region in northern Burkina Faso, before being rolled out across the country. Furthermore, by the end of the JOB BOOSTER project, 2,500 women and 2,500 men will be qualified to serve populations in the country’s towns and rural areas. Meanwhile, all 13 RCLs have included renewable energy options in their annual budget planning.

“Today all our voices are echoing like one louder voice. We better understand the government and moreover, we have learned from other organisations and networked with them,” said Mrs. Clarisse Nebie, who is responsible for monitoring at CEAS.

Who we are

The Voice for Change Partnership, led by SNV Netherlands Development organisation, strengthens the capacities of civil society organisations to foster collaboration among relevant stakeholders, influence agenda-setting and hold the government and private sector accountable for their promises and actions. It is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.