Integrating Clean Energy Use in National Poverty Reduction Strategies. Opportunities and Challenges in Rwanda’s Girinka Programme

Chika Ezeanya and Abel Kennedy


Poverty reduction programmes set up by national governments and targeted at rural communities have experienced the twin challenges of dearth of adequate energy sources and the effects of climate change on the rural landscape such as forest degradation and increased household air pollution (Barnett 2000). Although the poorest segment of the global population contribute only about 10 per cent to total global emissions, they live in areas that are most vulnerable to climate change. Outside of the general impact of the harmful environmental footprints of the richest 1 per cent globally, which could be as much as 175 times that of the poorest 10 per cent, poor people, especially in rural areas often have to bear the direct consequences of their own natural resource use. Casillas and Kammen (2010: 1) assert that ‘mitigating climate change, increasing energy access, and alleviating rural poverty can all be complementary, their overlap defining an energy-poverty-climate nexus’. SSA is a region with many rural communities whose energy use lead to impactful economic, health, and environmental consequences, especially on women and children (Banerjee etal. 2012). Governments across the region must work to reduce dependence on depleting and potentially harmful energy sources while tackling rural poverty.

Integrating clean energy use in poverty alleviation discourse is increasingly gaining global attention, mostly due to the established connection between high-level poverty and its economic, environmental, and health effects on poor communities. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has connected the dots between energy, poverty, and sustainable development. In publications and in policy advice to national governments, UNDP emphasizes the need to focus on generating clean and modern energy that is sustainable, since it ‘can be an engine for poverty reduction, social progress, equity, enhanced resilience, economic growth, and environmental sustainability’ (UNDP 2015: 1). The International Energy Agency (IEA) notes that in 2014, more than 2.6 billion global citizens were without clean energy for household use and were utilizing fuelwood as well as other forms of resources that result in high levels of household air pollution with its attendant adverse effects; more than 95 per cent of this figure are either in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) or in developing Asia and 84 per cent are in rural areas (IEA 2014).

The country of Rwanda in East Africa presents a good case in point where poverty levels is synonymous with fast depleting natural energy sources. In 2014, 85 per cent of Rwanda’s population relied on wood as main source of energy, a figure that represents a 5 per cent decline from four years earlier when 90 per cent was dependent on fuel burning (FAO 2011; The New Times 2015). The high number of Rwandans using fuelwood has led to a recorded national deficit of 8.5 million trees per year, mainly lost to burning wood for household energy use. Forty-five per cent of Rwandans live below the poverty line, representing roughly half of the current population dependent on fuel- wood in meeting their energy needs (NISR 2012). By building in the adoption of clean energy use within poverty alleviation programmes, the government of Rwanda has strived to promote clean energy use among rural dwellers, with emphasis on the rural poor.

This chapter focuses on the use of cow dung for domestic biogas among beneficiaries of the Rwandan government’s agricultural direct assistance programme, known as Girinka. Girinka entails the gifting of pregnant dairy cows to the poorest of the poor of rural dwellers by the government. Under Girinka, beneficiaries, when they have a minimum of two cows in kraal, are strongly encouraged and assisted—materially and financially—to install domestic biogas plants that use dung and urine to generate energy. The government worked through the National Domestic Biogas Programme (NDBP) and the result has been the migration of a number of rural dwellers who are Girinka beneficiaries away from fuelwood use to using biogas (Bedi, Pellegrini, and Tasciotti 2013). This chapter aims to improve our understanding of the various strategies utilized by the government in achieving increased biogas use among the rural poor, with emphasis on beneficiaries of the Girinka programme. Understanding gained from this study will bring increased enlightenment on the conditions necessary for successful implementation of clean energy promoting pro-poor reforms in rural communities.

Questions guiding this analysis will centrally arise from two key political economy variables—institutions and actors. Along that line, the role of the government of Rwanda and donors as drivers of change in clean energy use among the rural poor will be discussed, and questions that will establish who the main actors are in the promotion of clean energy use among the rural poor in Rwanda will be answered. Other questions along that axis include: What is the current policy environment and what alignments exist with international frameworks? What political and economic factors were at play in the increased use of biogas by rural Rwandans? Further, this chapter will apply the Power Analysis tool of political economy by raising questions around who is included and who is excluded from government of Rwanda’s promotion of clean energy use for the rural poor. Finally, social inclusion approach to rural poverty or pro-poor policy-making requires that questions be raised on the perceptions of the rural poor regarding the whole exercise. This is extremely necessary since ‘an effective rural development transformation programme that focus on the rural poor requires that a clear understanding of who the rural poor are, where they live, [their aspirations] and the challenges posed by the prevailing poverty levels in their respective habitats is known’ (Ewang 2013: 11).

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