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Country: Tanzania

Simusolar

Marianne Walpert set up Simusolar initially to supply solar lighting to homes, but switched to solar farming equipment after witnessing the challenging conditions faced by Tanzanian farmers. Rural incomes were largely reliant on agriculture, but farmers lacked modern equipment and even animals to help with ploughing, leading to very low yields in return for significant labour.

Key Highlights

  • Technology Solar
  • Technology Agriculture / irrigation
  • Country Tanzania
  • Business type Brownfield
  • 50K Finance mobilised (USD)
  • 22% Project IRR
  • 24 GHG mitigation impact (tonnes of CO2e/year)
  • Regional Coordinator
    Wilfred Mworia

    Sub-Saharan Africa

    About Wilfred
  • Find out more
    Simusolar’s website Visit

Simusolar

“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.”

Marianne Walpert, Co-CEO, Simusolar

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.

In addition, sales agents have an app which helps them recommend the right type of water pump for a customer, using data such as the area that needs to be irrigated. “This is something Simusolar does better than other companies, where they don’t necessarily have the technical expertise to recommend the right solution, and rely instead on the customer to know what they want,” he says.

The company is approaching its first year of profitability, which Walpert calls “a very exciting milestone”. It is focusing growth in areas where its technologies are starting to gain traction, such as the avocado sector. Growers tend to be concentrated in a small number of locations, making it easier for Simusolar to educate them on the benefits of the technology.

“We can talk all we want, but it is only when farmers actually see the technology being used, and the more successful farmers tell them they use it, that they are persuaded. Seeing is believing, and is what spreads the message,” she says.

PFAN supported Simusolar in putting together its business plan and investor pitch. Support was mainly provided to restructure the documents, so that investors would be able to quickly see not only what the company did, but how much and what type of capital it required, and what it planned to do with it.

PFAN also provided an opportunity for Marianne to speak our event ‘’Closing the Financing Gap for Climate Adaptation SMEs’’ during COP27. This gave her a deeper understanding of the potential for future finance from climate adaptation funds, she says. “I really learnt that this was an important point to highlight to potential funders. What we’re doing is just about the best thing one could do to adapt people to a changing climate,” she says.

‘Anywhere we can, we really try to bring in the gender focus so that we’re really addressing the needs of women in the country.’

Marianne Walpert, Co-CEO, Simusolar