The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2007 Winner

River, Fibre and Power Project

River, Fibre and Power Project

Bringing Lights and Life to Poor Coconut Farmers in Remote Areas

“It’s not just providing lights and livelihood for the poor, it’s all about conserving the environment,” says programme director Dr David Manalo, who brings the latest news from the project.

The project taps the river currents to generate clean electricity without burning fossil fuels and adding more carbon to the atmosphere. The electricity is then used to power car batteries which are distributed to remote houses in the mountains providing lights to the households and greatly improving the living conditions of the poor people.

In addition, the project addresses the root problem of forest destruction, namely poverty. In order to survive, poor people in remote areas often engage in making charcoal, logging, and cutting down trees and burning fields to clear areas of the forest to plant food and cash crops. However, these farming methods cause soil erosion, loss of bio-diversity and disrupt the ecological balance. By providing an alternative way of making a sustainable living, the project reduces the damage to the environment.

The River, Fibre and Power project achieves this alternative by training farmers and giving them equipment to enable them to process coconut husks into coconut fibres and looms, which have many practical uses, and generate income in a variety of ways. The fibres and looms are bartered for the battery charging services, and sold to groups who use them in their own environmental projects, thereby generating an additional source of income. They are also used in the production of practical household items including furniture and bedding and are spread on to mountainsides to prevent erosion and protect newly planted trees from being swept away by excessive rainwater. Other environmental uses include stabilising river banks and preventing desertification.

The project is now well established and we have developed two clear strategies to help achieve our aim of providing lights and livelihood to a further 100,000 poor households over the next 10-15 years.

The first strategy is to increase the scale of the operation by re-injecting money from the sale of the fibres and looms back into the project and doubling the number of beneficiaries every one and a half years. The greater the revenue generated, the faster the expansion will be and the additional money from the St Andrews Prize will help improve operational efficiency and ensure that we are managing the project at the optimum economic level.

The second strategy is to encourage other groups to replicate the project so that the target of 100,000 beneficiaries can be achieved more quickly.

We are pleased to report that we have had very positive discussions with the Regional Manager of the Philippine Coconut Authority in Region 4 (PCA-4) who is convinced of the great benefits and potentials of the project. As a result, he is planning to integrate the project ideas into the coconut fibre programmes in communities, without electricity, in his region. This could benefit more than 15,000 households within the PCA-4 region alone. 

Following on from this success we are continuing to inform as many groups as possible of the benefits of the project. The credibility of the project has been greatly enhanced by the St Andrews Prize recognition and I am convinced that this will really help us in encouraging other groups to replicate the projects in their own areas.

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