For years, selling eggs was a joyless business for Danai Bvochora, as most of the money she made went to cover minibus fares to the market in a rural area of Zimbabwe.
That was until an earth-brown solar-powered electric tricycle changed her life.
“We used to carry loads on our heads before. The tricycle has lessened the burden,” said the 47-year-old from Domboshava, about 40km north of the capital, Harare.
She carefully loads eggs onto the tricycle’s trailer before embarking on a bumpy 8km journey to the market.
“We even use it to go to church and worship,” Bvochora said, adding that a single trip to buy chicken feed from a local business center used to cost her US$12.
Charging her new solar-powered vehicle sets her back only US$2.50 every two weeks, and the mother of two is now making a profit.
Bvochora is among groups of women in Domboshava, a district renowned for its picturesque hills and giant boulders, who received a tricycle last year as part of a EU-funded project to assist small-scale farmers.
Assembled by Harare-based social enterprise Mobility for Africa, the three-wheelers were first introduced in Zimbabwe in 2019 to help women develop their businesses, Mobility director Shantha Bloemen said.
Transport has historically been inadequate in sparsely populated rural areas of Zimbabwe, where women often have to walk long distances carrying heavy loads on their heads to trade products, which sometimes spoil on the way in the heat.
Yet the idea of addressing that with electric three-wheelers raised a few eyebrows at first, said US-born Bloemen, who is a permanent resident in Zimbabwe and lived in the country in the 1990s when she worked for the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund.
“It was very lonely when we started,” Bloemen said, adding that her team had to work hard to prove to funders that the idea was viable.
“No one was talking about electric mobility in Africa, let alone for rural women,” she said.
Three years later, the social enterprise is planning to more than triple its fleet of 88 motorized vehicles by the end of this year.
It operates three solar-powered stations, where drivers can come to swap their lithium battery for a fully charged one when running low on energy — and foots the bill when something breaks.
Zimbabwe has faced tough economic conditions for more than two decades, with rural areas particularly hard hit.
The country’s economy is mainly driven by the informal sector, to which farmers such as the women from Domboshava belong. While some of the three-wheelers — nicknamed “Hamba” or “go” in the local Ndebele language — were bought by the EU and then gifted to locals, others are rented out for US$5 a day.
Phyllis Chifamba, a 37-year-old mother of four, uses her rented vehicle as a taxi.
Her clients include sick people going to a clinic, pregnant women going for medical checks, and villagers and farm dwellers going to do their shopping and other errands.
“I am able to provide food for my family and pay school fees for my children with the money I make from using the Hamba,” she said.
Mobility for Africa said it was planning to expand operations to other areas.
“African women are the most entrepreneurial, most productive, but no one takes them seriously,” Bloemen said. “If we solve the transport problems, rural economies will work. Small farmers will get more produce to the market.”
Beneficiary Frasia Gotosa said her small business has improved since she has been driving to the market, as her vegetables no longer rot while waiting for the bus or pushing a wheelbarrow.
“Now I get to the market while my produce is still fresh,” she said.
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