South Africa 6.10.2015 10:10 am

Clara Ibihya finds opportunity in renewable energy sector

Female entrepreneurs, Ninky Shuenyane and Clara Ibihya are passionate about making a difference to women's lives through renewable energy. Picture: Supplied

Female entrepreneurs, Ninky Shuenyane and Clara Ibihya are passionate about making a difference to women's lives through renewable energy. Picture: Supplied

Ibihya arrived in Cape Town on Saturday from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on an invitation from UN Women to showcase what she is doing with renewable energy at the South African International Renewable Energy Conference (SAIREC) taking place in the Cape Town International Convention Centre. She said UN Women spotted her at the Sharefair Exhibition […]

Ibihya arrived in Cape Town on Saturday from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on an invitation from UN Women to showcase what she is doing with renewable energy at the South African International Renewable Energy Conference (SAIREC) taking place in the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

She said UN Women spotted her at the Sharefair Exhibition in Nairobi, Kenya in 2015, and invited her to exhibit at SAIREC, which is a great opportunity for exposure. Hair beautifully coiffed, and dressed in a deep purple, black and red kikoi cloth, Ibihya who is 60, is in the business of drying fruit and vegetables using a solar powered dryer.

Samples of her wares are carefully displayed in a corner in the stall. You could purchase sun dried pumpkin flour, breadfruit flour, mangoes, pineapples, and bananas among other foods. Next to her was Ninky Shuenyane, a 49-year-old researcher who started up Sun Oven in the country in 2013. Her product, a solar oven stands proudly behind her.

An upgraded wonderbag, the Sun Oven, which weighs 9.5kg and comes with two pots, is easily portable and a winner with campers and women, especially in remote areas and even handy for disaster relief management and helping displaced families.

The oven is able to heat up to over 220°C and can be used for baking, cooking, boiling, roasting and even dehydrating food. The oven’s dehydrating capabilities, Shuenyane said, helps women to “be able to make their food produce last longer”.

Ibihya smiled and shared that she was happy to be at SAIREC as she wanted to show that “renewable energy is also useable in the agricultural sector” and not limited to certain sectors. She started her business, Claphijo Enterprises in 2002 when she saw an opportunity to make a difference. Regal in her kikoi, Ibihya, who worked in administration before becoming an entrepreneur said her enterprise started with a simple observation.

“It all started by observing the abundance of fruits and vegetables in Tanzania. The food was mostly spoiled because there was nobody using it or doing something about it,” she said. A long ago memory of post harvest roses came to her mind. “I remembered how in my childhood, I used to observe my mother dry roses, even vegetables,” she said.

Ibihya said this memory inspired her business, which now employs seven people and is her main source of income sustaining her family. Shuenyane said her business was born out of a dilemma one of her clients, who wanted to open a community bakery had. “The client’s biggest concern was electricity,” she recounted.

Shuenyane said she was enjoying SAIREC for the rich networking opportunities it brought her. She said she did some research into energy efficient ways of cutting down on costs, She subsequently contacted a solar company in the US, and bought the licence to make the Sun Oven in South Africa. She said she has sold up to 24 units since first starting out, and each solar oven costs R2 800, including the pots.

She said that the solar oven helps women to save a substantial amount each month on what they would have paid for electricity. Ibihya explained that the food produce is dried in large ‘solar dryers’. “Depending on the sun, it takes two to three days for the food to dry,” she said.

The most popular sun dried produce she sells in Tanzania are sun dried mangoes, pineapple and pumpkin flour. Ibihya smiled as she contemplated the future: “My dream is to take Tanzania globally and make it known for dried fruits and vegetables”.

She is already on that journey to put Tanzania on the renewable energy map. Shuenyane, on the other hand, shared that her dream is “to make women and girl children’s lives easier”.

“Women in Africa spend a lot of time either looking for cooking fuel, or for water,” Shuenyane said.

She expressed her desire to see more women and girl children being able to use that time to focus on their children or go to school and become someone.

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