Like millions of his countrymen living in coastal areas in low-lying Bangladesh, fisherman Faroukh Mia and his family are acutely at risk from rising sea levels. They’re often portrayed by the world’s media as the helpless victims of a climate disaster waiting to happen. But that’s just half the story. They’re also entrepreneurs, exploiting new technology sold to them by one of Bangladesh’s most dynamic businesses.
Faroukh lives miles from the nearest mains power. His mobile, like the lights in his home and in his wife’s sewing workshop, are charged by solar electricity, courtesy of a small PV panel attached to his roof. He bought it from Grameen Shakti (‘village energy’) – an offshoot of the hugely successful Grameen Bank.
Thanks to a simple micro-credit system, families like Faroukh’s are part of the company’s rapidly expanding customer base. The savings on fuel costs of kerosene lanterns easily cover the monthly repayments. The clean, bright solar lamps mean that he and his wife can work into the evenings – more than doubling their income as a result – while the phone grants them access to the wider economy in a way unimaginable just a decade ago. Now, when Faroukh hauls in his nets, the first thing he does is ring round various ports to get the best possible price for his catch: a small example of low-carbon development redistributing economic power in favor of the poor.
Grameen Shakti – winner of an outstanding achievement prize in the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy – has now installed close on half a million solar home systems across the country, and confidently expects to hit one million by 2012. With over 30 million families marooned off grid in Bangladesh alone, the potential for future growth is enormous.
(Image via Shidulai)
Inland, meanwhile, a fleet of ‘solar boats’ is bringing education and technical advice to children and farmers in some of the most remote parts of the country, accessible only by river. Shidhulai, a local development organization, runs floating classrooms which double as all-purpose advice centers, connected by webcam to health and agricultural experts hundreds of miles away.
Editor's Note: This post is a supplement to Leapfrogging into a Carbon-Light Future: The End of High-Carbon Prosperity and How Low-Income Nations Are Becoming Climate Resilient and originally appeared as a sidebar on Green Futures written by Anna Simpson, Martin Wright and Roger East.