MAIGOBO sub-district (Hawzen) – in Geralta The first 100% kerosene and indoor smoke free zone in rural Tigray / Ethiopia

                                 MAIGOBO sub-district (Hawzen) – in Geralta 

The first 100% kerosene and indoor smoke free zone in rural Tigray / Ethiopia



“Gheralta pictures. The view from the top of the mountain is absolutely spectacular, one of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen in Africa.” (by : Luciano Napolitano -



A)    Pictures of :     -     Geralta mountains’ range and Maigobo sub-disctrict, (ref. dropbox file)

-          the countryside with its problems of energy poverty,

-          the solutions.


Is it possible to completely and sustainably displace kerosene from an entire village or rural district?

Providing a practical answer and demonstration to this question of energy poverty is the main objective here.

B)     Problems and practical solutions :

In line and further to my previous “crazy proposal”:  some initial tests had to be made at individual household level (10)  before moving to involve an entire community, as part of Tsere lamba – solar energy initiative.     

Since early Sept. 2014 a practical experiment – following up the practical aspects of logistics, real impact on intended beneficiaries and its sustainability over an adequate period of time of at least 2 years  - is ongoing in Maigobo sub-district,  home to about 4000 people all living widely dispersed in about 600 off-grid households.

To begin with, there are no villages to consider here but dispersed farmers’ dwellings spread over 4 rural kebeles of: Maigobo, Mehtsewalid, Tewlehe, Agoza.

Kerosene used to be here the only dependable albeit expensive source for lighting ( on average  > $ 3  for 3 liters monthly consumption) .  Torches were also used moderately to save on batteries costing about $ 1 per month.  Birr 80  in total per month, per family.

For comparison sake, my grid electricity bill in Addis Ababa is no more than Birr 25 ( 1.2 $) per month (for about 12 lighting points, TV, PC, boiler, fridge etc…). Driving to pay the bill costs me more, unfortunately. 

Inefficient cooking stoves are also used extensively around here causing harmful indoor pollution and severe environment degradation, with evident deforestation.  

Subsistence farming, on small plots in deforested arid land, is the main activity here, and extreme poverty in its worst aspect – indoor pollution is certainly one - is still a common denominator.  That is why no one is left behind, including:  every household, churches, schools, Administration and the health post (never seen it open, by the way).

Within Sept. 2014,  all households were provided 2 and some 3 free basic solar lanterns, D.Light   S2 and S20 type (each costing me Birr 250 and 350 =  $ 12.5 and 17.5 respectively).

The timely procurement and distribution has been possible thanks to the excellent cooperation of the local D.Light importer/distributor in Addis Ababa,  and Hiddassie (ex ETC) dealers in Mekelle, Wukro, Adigrat and Abi-Adi.

Similarly the local Administration’s staff and the representative of women’s organization have been very helpful for the orderly distribution and further follow up activities.

To everyone’s surprise and joy, Meskel night (local holiday) all Maigobo’s residents experienced for the very first time cleaner and brighter solar lighting, for a change. 

In mid Dec. 2014 each household was also given (free) an improved and more efficient cook-stove costing each Birr 130 = $ 6.5 to save on charcoal costs (> Birr 150 equal to $ 7. 5 per month).

A grill was added to each cook-stove to improve the usual unhealthy roasting habit (or burning) of corn and … meat (if and when lucky).

Similarly steel pots will be provided next time to discourage (optional) the use of inefficient clay cooking pots (tsahili / yeshekla dist), for those interested in further savings. 

As a result, one important outcome of these efforts is the total annual saving per family of Birr 2,700 (= $ 135). Surely important for them!  That is what their formal thank-you note confirmed together with improvements on their health conditions.

It is still necessary, however, to insist that such savings are meant to help them cope by themselves, and help them plan for their energy needs. 

Accordingly to avoid misleading representation, an articulated MOU (memorandum of understanding) was agreed with the community and signed by the local Administration.

A formal letter of thanks and recognition (ref. pdf file) was finally obtained from the local Administration to certify their complete satisfaction (local elders exaggerating with their blessings too).    As a component of a wider integrated approach to reducing extreme poverty (like: Wash, food security, health, education etc… programs), the positive impact of these efforts is confirmed by them to be direct, useful and certainly welcome.

Just to mention some related hardships: while goodwill and cooperation were overwhelming, idiotic organized hostility and theft were also realities to face from day one (ex. had my car tire flat 3 nights in a row in the same hotel in Hawzen).

Regardless, we together shall make sure there is no going back to the harm of kerosene, which is now history in Maigobo.  And should stay that way.


C)       Lessons learned  (or reconfirmed on the ground) :

1.      Dispersed energy for dispersed communities works best.

The experiment in Maigobo is here to prove it, that quality solar lighting and improved cook-stoves, as dispersed energy, are the most practical, competitive and convenient energy solutions for rural and pastoralist communities living dispersed, and on the move periodically.

2.      Kerosene is the most detested indoor air pollutant.

Asked specifically to pick the worst, most women in this area indicated Kerosene fumes as the most detested indoor pollutants. Apart its considerable cost, coughing and spitting up tar every morning is the unavoidable fate of the entire family, including babies.

Why is it then that no adequate attention and investment is given to it when dealing with indoor pollution? Corrective awareness and advocacy work will still be needed globally and locally.

3.     Quality basic solar lanterns are the most practical and competitive solution to displace kerosene.

Kerosene for lighting can be effectively displaced for good with affordable basic solar lanterns, particularly in multiple numbers:  2, 3 or more, rather than a single bigger and more expensive model. It practically happened here. Pico, SHS and, hopefully, grid based rural electrification could follow in due course.

4.      Supply is No. 1 problem. Poorest are used to pay cash.

If only readily available, villagers around Maigobo stand ready and eagerly waiting to buy c.o.d. the most affordable products, as some have already started buying also bigger mobile charging models (a good number of sub-standard and counterfeit products too).

As absurd as it may look, mobile phones are reaching the poorest in tens of millions even before they get access to electricity to charge them. Clearly no MFIs or multiple layers of middlemen were necessary here. People paid them cash as a matter of fact, and they are now doing it again with solar lanterns (also in millions).

5.      > 25 lumens is good enough. Better when lanterns used in pairs.

Lumens’ levels of basic quality solar lanterns have been found to be good enough by the villagers, in fact they found them to be impressive when working in tandem.  That is the trick, both quality and cost-wise.

6.      Nighttime field work is possible and real.

Well beyond my imagination for its scale, all the farmers in Maigobo effectively used these very basic solar lanterns also for field works at night, especially during the current harvest season (all harvest / atcheda was carried out at night for the first time). This is highly productive and smart indeed. For sure they know it better.

7.      Savings are indeed measurable.

As a matter of fact, in just 3 months they have already saved on kerosene the equivalent of a single basic lantern (Birr 250).  Needless to add the benefits on their health, students reading at night, and the economic advantages of nighttime field work.

8.      Information and after sales support essential.

The follow up during the first 3 months showed that only 4 solar lanterns were returned damaged, out of > 1500. And promptly replaced by the dealer.

A good degree of verbal and written information with practical demonstration has been provided, and shall continue with the involvement of the whole community as all of them have the same products and can help one another. I am also just a telephone call away, when not around there.

Next follow up trip shall include also the monitoring of performance of the improved cook-stoves, working in combination with solar lighting to minimize indoor pollution.

9.      Quality assurance and enforcement matter indeed. Like solar products, improved cook-stoves need to be certified.

Quality of products is critical especially for communities in remote areas. For a good start,  of all 600 distributed improved cook-stoves, not a single one was found broken after a trip of over 1000 Km  long  where road conditions and handling trans-shipments  are in part very difficult.

Initial observations of the distributed Desta cookstoves (called also Obama around Adama in Oromya State), which are far more efficient than Lakech model, have shown savings ranging from > 50 to 100%  on charcoal consumptions and costs over the traditional ones.  Confirmation will come in due course.

It is unfortunate though, that no matter the regulations, all sorts of sub-standard and fake products – both solar and inefficient cooking stoves - are flooding local markets near and afar. Of course this (corruption and incompetence) must not be allowed and conveniently tolerated, as the poorest stand to lose once again.

10.   Clay cooking pots, jebena and mitad cannot be efficient and suitable to save fuel / maghedo.

In addition to the dissemination of improved cook-stoves, it is necessary to face the facts that traditional clay pots (tsahely / yeshekla dist), jebena and mitad are all made from a row material which is “a bad thermal energy conductor” in physics.  Thus inadequate and unscientific, in the first place. That is in fact why porcelain insulators are instead used in electric transmission lines and substations, exactly for this very property.

Modern steel cooking wares and appliances need to be accepted and gradually used by anyone seriously interested in saving energy, avoiding frivolous cultural reasons, like: “the food won’t taste good”.  Clearly old and bad habits die hard.

11.  Women’s rights matter most.

It is quite evident and unfortunate that traditional systems of food preparation, cooking and eating - apart the endless tasks assigned to women in rural communities – work mostly to the advantage of men who often foolishly invoke culture and tradition to preserve their convenience in exploiting women. No wonder they resist change! Hopefully, compulsory quality education and decent legal minim wages for all, particularly for the “invisible” house servants (working day and night, mostly in towns), will help accelerate the pace of the desired transformation.

12.  Best practices should be kept and gradually modernized.

In various parts of Tigray in particular, there is a tradition of using a self made stove (mogogo) for baking injera (local staple bread). Apart that it is designed to accommodate the shapeless wood available there (acacia trees prevalently) it is fitted with a suitable chimney to lead the smoke out of the kitchen (tchiss bet).  This is indeed a good practice to encourage and for others to follow, at this stage. “Mirt” injera oven with chimney is quite good for some other regions and wherever suitable, but the quality should not be compromised, as it is happening often nowadays.  (?)  In reality, consistent and sustainable use of quality products counts more than mere “coverage” numbers for statistical or other dishonest purposes. 

Moreover, they still need to smartly use these stoves for baking local bread (injera,hambasha, dabbo, kitta) possibly all at the same time in order to better utilize the burning fuel.

Diet diversification and nutrition improvements need to be encouraged with adequate consideration of high-yield crops (teff ?) to face the reality of current overpopulation, poverty and migration.

13.   Honest AID helps the poorest, and the market.

Aid, as initial push and support, works fine when totally directed to beneficiaries (and not abused by various middlemen and fat cats), particularly to help push themselves out of the poverty trap:  both economical, cultural and religious. Business and trade have only to gain here as a result.

14.   The poorest here give more than they receive.

 It is quite positive that, the villagers here say honestly they feel encouraged and motivated to work hard (for free) on reforestation, land preservation works and preserve local and global environment. Imagine that, because of recent improvements, they have now a different “problem” of selling their high quality white honey, in bulk.  Ultimately, these people give more than they receive.


Far from claiming this is a big deal, perfect or unprecedented, if we have done it here all with a quite modest investment and prove its sustainability over a reasonable time, then replicating it and scaling it up also at national level (why not?) will not be a problem as long as concerned (responsible?) people are serious enough to take the necessary useful actions.

Capable hard-nosed business men should take advantage of this huge market too. 

Thanks to all those working hard in this sector, the solutions are right there. We now know it better than before: …. it works!


Salvatore Chester                                                                                                                      (Addis Ababa, 12.01.2015)  

Tsere lamba – solar energy (initiative)

Attaments: -

 1.  Pictures of Geralta mountains; 2. Maigobo’s pictures; 3. Copy of proposal; 4. MOU and letter of recognition  

PS.  Please view Maigobos' pictures on the photo section. 


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