“When targeting women as customers, you have to really figure out what the specific challenges of female farmers are compared with men, so that you can really tackle those.”
Since it began in 2014, Simusolar has distributed and installed around 17,000 solar systems, including water pumps, security lighting and fishing lights, to around 2,000 people.
Its customers are smallholder farmers with 0.5 to 5 acres who are growing crops to sell, typically in the horticultural sector. They are the largest share of the population in East Africa, but tend to have the lowest income, limited access to finance and little technical knowledge. To overcome these challenges, Simusolar also provides finance in the form of lease-to-own packages. Though it can be hard to convince farmers to take on new technology and loans, once they see the results, they are converted, Walpert reports.
“They’re really happy that they don’t have to pay for fuel for the pumps, and that they are so reliable,” she says. “The financing is what makes it possible – without that, none of them would be able to purchase solar water pumps upfront. So all of a sudden, they’re expanding their farms and they’re getting more yields.”
The company’s products benefit women in particular, as they are typically tasked with carrying water for irrigation. “When targeting women as customers, you have to really figure out what the specific challenges of female farmers are compared with men, so that you can really tackle those,” she says.
Simusolar itself has a strong record when it comes to gender – not only does it have Walpert as co-founder and CEO, but women comprise 36% of its 130+ workforce, its management team is more than 50% female, and on average, its female employees earn more than the men. The company plans to increase the proportion of female workers and is currently working on a gender strategy.
Simusolar had some obvious strengths that attracted the support of PFAN, according to their PFAN Advisor Lukas Gruener. ‘’Its key selling point is that it supports a full product range from small to large applications, as well as payment plans to make the product affordable for famers in Tanzania,’’ he says.
They can also control solar water pumps remotely, meaning they can both diagnose any problems, but also switch it off if customers fail to make a payment, which reduces their exposure to financial risk.