Multi-use engines drive women's empowerment in 1,000 Mali villages

Residents of Ouarkoye, Mali, line up buckets of full of grains in front of the Multi-Functional Platform, which they will use to grind the grain.
Residents of Ouarkoye, Mali, use a Multi-Functional Platform to grind grain. (Photo: UNDP)

Before the installation of a diesel-fueled engine, Koumantou village in southern Mali would to fall into near total darkness each night. The only light would be cast from the restaurant of local businesswoman, Kadia Kone. 

This scene is repeated throughout rural Sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of the population lacks access to energy.

Highlight Title

  • 1,000 diesel-fueled engines have been installed in Mali villages to increase energy access for residents.
  • A variety of equipment can be added to the engines to make them adaptable to many uses and to meet the specific needs of each village.
  • Three million people in West Africa now have better energy access through the diesel-fueled engines.

But thanks to a newly installed engine, residents in Koumantou village now have access to enough energy to generate electricity for lighting, pump water from wells, de-husk crops and charge phone batteries. With its multiple uses, the easy-to-maintain engine also helps to stimulate the economy of the entire community, serving about 1,500 people in the village and beyond.

Installation of the engine in Koumantou was part of a Mali Government programme, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), that has received more than US$20 million in funding from Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among other partners.

Known as the Multi-Functional Platforms (MFP) project, it began in 1997 as a UNDP-backed pilot programme implemented by local authorities. So far, it has reached about 1.5 million people in Mali - over five percent of the country's rural population.

The latest phase of the project began in 2008 and will run until 2012. With a budget of US$4.43 million, it aims to provide at least 200 more engines to fight poverty by helping women to run small-scale enterprises in rural Mali. 

UNDP and partners are expanding similar programmes to Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Niger and Togo.

The positive impact that energy access can have on the lives of the rural poor was underscored by a United Nations General Assembly Resolution, which designated 2012 as the year of universal sustainable energy access. Likewise, improving energy access for the world's poorest populations is one plank of UNDP's poverty reduction strategy.

The engines have led to a significant increase in the productive capability of residents of isolated villages in Mali. For example, a 2005 UNDP survey carried out in Sikasso and Mopti villages showed that women earn an average of US$68 in additional revenue per year through access to mechanical power from the engines.

In a country where the average income for the poor is just US$1.37 a day, this extra income is a significant step towards reducing poverty.

In April, 2010, a ceremony held under the patronage of Mali’s President, Amadou Toumani Toure, commemorated the installation of Mali’s 1,000th engine unit in the village of Mounzoun.

In all of West Africa approximately three million people now have better energy access through the engines, some of which now run on biofuels, such as the Jatropha vegetable oil.

UNDP's poverty reduction strategy also aims to break poverty cycles by supporting governments in drawing up and putting into action policies that empower women.

In Mali, the engine project targets women with low income and minimal access to energy. Only registered women’s associations, with the support of village members, can apply for a unit.

Once trained, these women save an average of between two and six hours daily using the technology.

“The lights attract more customers and my income has increased,” said Kone, whose use of the generator for her restaurant business reduced manual work for herself and others. 

UNDP’s project coordinator in Mali, Yaya Sidibe, spoke of the impact that such technology can have when put in the hands of women. “If you help a man you help one person, but if you help a woman you are helping the whole family and the community.”

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