By Moira Kruse
There is unanimous agreement that energy plays a pivotal role in national development.
The traditional concept of productive uses of energy for rural development needs to be revised for primarily two reasons. First, there is a growing realisation that although energy is a necessary condition for our rural development, it is insufficient by itself to bring about the desired socioeconomic impact.
Second, there is a significant shift in the understanding of what is meant by rural development, especially in the context of the Sustainable development Goals (SDG) used by the major donors and international development agencies. The SDGs emphasise not just poverty reduction in terms of income, but also highlight the importance of improved health, universal primary education, women’s empowerment, and gender equality.
The very goals of development are to raise the incomes of the rural people and also to ensure that they are educated and healthy, and treated equally. Thus, an enhanced understanding of what is the productive use of energy must take into account not only the direct impact of energy on raising incomes but also the indirect impacts that energy can have on education, health and gender issues.
To be frank, providing education without electricity is not going to have as much impact as providing education with electricity. Similarly, providing electricity by itself without schools or other educational facilities will not have as much impact as having both of them present in a community.
Rural social and economic development depends significantly on the state of health of the population.
For rural people to be productive farmers, fishermen and workers, they must be healthy and well-nourished. Many of the benefits that stem from modern energy services disproportionately benefit women more than they benefit men because it is women and girls who spend the most amount of time and effort cooking, collecting water, and collecting wood and other biomass resources.
Thus, any improvement in energy access will disproportionately benefit them. By reducing the time women spend cooking and collecting water, electricity allowed women and children to spend more time on educational, social, and income-generating activities.
Changes in the understanding of the productive uses of energy for rural development have meant that public policy also must consider the following: An emphasis on simply providing electricity coverage in rural areas without adequate forethought to opportunities for business development and poverty reduction is not only undesirable but is unsustainable in the long run as valuable resources will be wasted.
The emphasis on agricultural motive power leads directly to increasing incomes is an important component of energy and productive uses. Although income generation is an important means toward this goal, it must berecognised that any use of energy that contributes toward education, health, and gender equity should be considered a productive use of energy. Generally, everyone agrees with the notion that healthy people are more productive.
Agricultural motive power is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Machines must be used by educated and healthy people to be effective in promoting development and improving income and without energy, there are limits to any type of growth in rural areas.
This suggests an urgent need to examine the critical linkages between energy and women’s empowerment, education of children and adults, health, and income generation withoutpast preconception of the productive uses of energy.