Friday, July 22, 2005

MFC: Engaging the Grassroots

Mali-Folkecenter (MFC) is a Malian NGO that represents the Danish Folkecenter for Renewable Energy. It's mission is to promote the sustainable management of natural resources and the use of these resources to catalyze local economic growth & sustainable development by working in partnership with rural populations and local entrepreneurs.

MFC participates in energy & environment policy work with the Malian government, but according to its web site, its most notable activities include:
- environmental protection
- provision of clean energy services for rural and un-served areas using renewable energy technologies
- drinking water supply
- technology transfer
- the training of local technicians and
- delivery of enterprise development services for rural companies in the clean energy sector.

In November and December 1998 a Danish Folkecenter team visited Mali in 1998 upon the invitation from, Alpha Oumar Konare, the Malian President. During the meeting with the Folkecenter team, President Konare explained the government's priority in the areas of education, health, and water supply. He also expressed the view that Folkecenter could share its know-how in sustainable development with Malian institutions and independent organizations (NGOs) as well as with the private sector (especially small enterprises) and this could be done in cooperation with a Malian organization. To this end, Folkecenter opened the Mali Folkecenter in July 1999.

After achieving positive results working with rural and peri-urban populations for sustainable development, Mali-Folkecenter signed a five-year protocol-agreement with the Malian Ministry for Mines, Energy and Water in October 2000.

Basing its approach to development activities on grassroots initiatives from the communities concerned and with direct involvement of local people during execution, Mali-Folkecenter has kept a keen focus on serving the communities it was created to assist.

Emphasis is placed on comprehensive training of target groups and, where appropriate, maintenance and management committees are created in order to facilitate appropriation of activities and build the capacity needed within those communities to assure maximum impact in the long term.

Creation of income generating mechanisms is also given priority in order to ensure profits for operators as well as local economic growth and the provision of funds for maintenance, repairs and continued operation of the project.

MFC does all this by working closely with members of the local communities, local government authorities, national government departments and other development partners, including multi-lateral institutions and local & international NGOs.

There are five departments through which MFC carries out its programs. The Solar/ Wind Department implements projects to utilize these two renewal energy sources. It places a heavy emphasis on the technical training of members of the local communities in order to build local capacity at village level for operation & maintenance of systems once they have been installed. Also the identification and development of appropriate management mechanisms are made in order to ensure the most effective means of sustaining the project. This includes income-generating mechanisms appropriate for the socio-environmental context of the target community.

The Department of Gender, Energy and Environment deals with the issues relating to the development of new, more environmentally sustainable income generating activities for rural women and environmental education. The need for this department is illustrated by the fact that in Mali, firewood is the major source of energy, contributing to approximately 90% of all energy use. Firewood is traditionally gathered by women in Mali and is an important source of income for rural women. Because of the importance of firewood as an energy source and as a source of income to rural women, demand for the resource has led to widespread deforestation and its resulting problems of erosion and desertification

The Department of Gender, Energy and Environment is dealing with this problem in part by providing environmental education, the development of new, more environmentally sustainable income generating activities for rural women, emphasizing importance of planting new trees and introducing energy efficient stoves.

The Department of Natural Resource Development has a very broad mandate, and includes projects ranging from environmental education and planning to water resource management and various innovative projects utilizing the Jatropha plant. Below is a list of the projects as shown on MFC's web site

- Household biogas plants to combat desertification and climate change (Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program)

- Building capacity for municipal environmental action planning (GTZ via STP - Secretariat Permanent Technique at the Ministry of Environment)

- PNIR AEPA Program National d'Infrastructures Rurales Acces à l'Eau Potable & Assainissement - National Program for Rural Infrastrructure Access to Drinking Water & Sanitation (World Bank)

- Study on community participation in the World Bank/GEF/UNDP Household Energy & Universal Rural Access Program (UNDP Mali)

- Study on the Senegal River infestation by aquatic plants (Finnida via Finnish Environmental Institute)

- Setting up an alert system for water hyacinth in the Senegal River (Finnida via WaterFinns, a Finnish environmental NGO)

- Bringing community forest management in line with the Kyoto Protocol (University of Twente, Netherlands, via ENDA Tiers Monde, Senegal)

- Capacity building of local authorities and populations regarding construction of a waste dump (Swiss Cooperation)

The Enterprise Development Department was established to support small and medium sized enterprises in the renewable energy & energy saving sector.

Mali-Folkecenter, through its The enterprise development department, works with AREED (African Rural Energy Enterprise Development), which was initiated by UNEP (the United Nations Environment Programme) in April 2000. AREED seeks to develop new sustainable energy enterprises that use clean, efficient, and renewable energy technologies to meet energy needs of under-served populations, thereby reducing the environmental and health consequences of existing energy use patterns.

The AREED initiative is currently operational in Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia. In each country, local NGO partners act as the focal point for activities.
AREED offers:

- Training and tools to help entrepreneurs start and develop clean energy businesses

- Enterprise start-up support in areas such as business planning, structuring and financing

- Seed capital for early stage enterprise development

- Partnerships with banks and NGOs involved in rural energy development

The Tecnological Development Department is responsible for all the more technical aspects of MFC's work. Several of these projects revolve around the developing technology for the use of jatropha oil.

MFC has been actively working on the promotion of the Jatropha plant since 1999. A range of projects have been executed, focusing on different aspects of Jatropha production and use, from plantation use as a living hedge, soap making, use of jatropha as a diesel substitute for transportation, among other things.

MFC believes that jatropha can become an important resource for Mali, as local production would mean local employment, and local generation of income. Jatropha also has the potential to release Mali from its dependence on imported fossil fuels.

I've only had time to give you a brief description of what MFC is doing in Mali. Use the link below and go to their web site to get the full story.

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