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Monday, February 2, 2009

Rays of hope for hawkers: Sunlight at night

As the sun sets, the street-side makeshift shops, stalls and pushcarts in South India’s small town of Hassan turn into a bustling marketplace illuminated by bright white lights. On approach the presence of Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) is immediately noticeable despite the power shut down that is a frequent feature in the area. Any enquiries of the hawkers elicits the invariable response of “Mr. Murugesh’s Solar lights”, before they turn back to serving their customers.

Needs of Street Vendors

Street hawkers or vendors in most Indian urban (Bangalore is estimated to have around 30,000 street vendors) and peri-urban areas retail a sizeable portion of perishable agro-produce such as fruits, vegetables and flowers. Many hawkers also vend cooked food, regional meals and snacks, and even household items such as footwear, watches, and belts to the poor, middle and even upper-classes. Most of these hawkers depend on these small businesses for their livelihoods and, though they have rather “impermanent” set-ups such as push-carts they conduct business in the same location for years and are open late into the evenings. Most of them are from the poorer sections of society dependent on their businesses that are “daily economies” (at times paying an exorbitant interest of 10% a day to buy goods that they resell). Owing to the impermanent nature of their set-ups, they all lack access to mainstream infrastructure services, like modern cost-effective and reliable lighting.

Adequate lighting for these hawkers during dusk and late evening business hours is imperative as evening is their peak business hour. Most hawkers use kerosene-based lanterns and LPG-based gas-lighting. This form of lighting has many disadvantages such as relatively high fuel and maintenance costs, inadequate lighting, disruptive heating of the business environment and noxious fumes, which are damaging to health and the goods being sold.

A Solution for lighting

S3IDF has a solution. S3IDF helps a local entrepreneur operate a battery charging station powered by solar photovoltaic panels (or through grid or a hybrid). The batteries get charged during the day time and are delivered to the hawkers in the evening on a pay-for-use basis.

Benefits of the ‘Solution’

The hawkers are charged a daily rental fee of Rs. 12 (increased in 2007 from the initial Rs. 10) [~USD 0.25] for a typical usage of 4 hours, after which time the batteries are collected and taken back to the charging station for recharging. This price is competitive with the running costs of existing kerosene/LPG lights (kerosene in the open market costs around Rs. 35/liter and the hawkers typically use ¾ liter a day) and the hawkers are quick to realize the other benefits that these lights bring such as easy usage (simply connecting the batteries to the lights), a lower heat output, brighter light and reliable lighting even during the frequent power outages endemic to small Indian towns.

Enabling Infrastructure for the poor

Mr. Murugesh started the micro-enterprise with just 50 lights in January 2005 with the help of S3IDF, which not only helped access the bank loan, but also convinced the technology supplier SELCO to provide a buy-back guarantee of the infrastructure, and provided proper business development support to the micro- enterprise. The business expanded to service 120 street vendors by mid-2006. For this, Murugesh was able to get additional financing from the local bank based on his credit history. Local employment has increased slightly thanks to the extra hands hired for the upkeep and transportation of the batteries.

Ratnamma, Manju and the rest still struggle for their daily livelihood, but at least they have one less problem to worry about now.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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