In the 1970s, Farafra was a remote oasis with a population of about 2000 people that used camels as their means of transport. Only two vehicles came to this oasis every month bringing essential goods for the residents. Students studied with kerosene lamps at night.
Later, diesel generator power was extended to this remote oasis lighting for a few hours in the day before the night load-shedding. It remained like that until solar energy was introduced in Farafra, and life changed; plants blossomed, and investment grew.
In the corner of a small wooden bower that lies almost in the middle of a farm, four women sat next to each other close to an ancient stove made of mud bricks as they removed the remaining flour from the bread they made.
Om Alhana, in her 50s, covers her face with a white scarf as she narrates how life was in Farafra oasis over a quarter a century ago.
“There was no electricity. We used a gas stove. My father used a camel for transport. There was no education here. We studied from far-off schools in Dakhla and Kharga oases,” notes Om Alhana.
Om Alhana and several other women in her community are experts in making home-made wheat bread, the skills they learnt from their grandmothers.
Even with the introduction of automated bakeries in Farafra Oasis, the women chose to preserve this custom.
The women have kept the centuries-old tradition of baking home-made bread. And now, their work has been simplified by the availability of solar power.
"We now have refrigerators to store bread. We no longer need to bake three times a week. Instead, we bake large quantities once a week and store the bread in the refrigerators," says Om Alhana.
"We enjoy eating what we make; we grow wheat and bake bread," she notes.
The visibly fat Abdel Sattar Mohamed sat on a wooden desk in his workshop, surrounded by iron pieces and wires as he narrated how he left his hometown in Kafr El Sheikh Governorate, Delta, Egypt, to Farafra 27 years ago soon after he returned from a business trip in the Gulf countries.
“At that time, Farafra was a new town, which needed projects. So, I decided to come and start a small turnery shop in the central part of the town,” narrates Abdel Sattar.
He says in the beginning everything was difficult.
“Everything was unavailable; electricity, workers, and goods, until the circumstances improved gradually,” re-counts Abdel Sattar.
Plans for establishing Farafra industrial city started in 2000. By the time it was inaugurated in 2004, Abdel Sattar had built his turnery workshop, the first to be established there.
His workshop suffered a power outage at that time. He paid a 200 LE monthly electric bill. But after building a solar power station, the power supply was never interrupted at Abdel Sattar’s workshop and 40 other workshops in the Farafra industrial city.
Reda Mohamed Mustafa, a young engineer in his 30s, started his solar power project after years of working with the government solar power stations in Farafra.
He began his project in Farafra, an area where farmers were by then using diesel-electric motors to irrigate their farms with water sourced from ground wells. However, the need for regular maintenance and fuel had made this irrigation system too expensive for farmers.
Eventually, Reda established solar power stations in the region that would irrigate farmers’ farms for ten hours a day without fuel and regular breakdowns.
Farmers paid in installments for over six months. In addition, they were given a 25-year warranty and free maintenance.
Through this initiative, Reda enabled several farmers to establish successful investments, helping them increase their production and income.
Subsequently, his company expanded outside Farafra to El Beheira and Cairo. Reda says he invested over five million Egyptian pounds in this.
“It was a great investment opportunity. There was a demand from farmers, even though there were five other companies in Farafra providing solar power,” nattates Reda
He says the cheapest solar power station costs about 600 thousand LE, the money a farmer can get back from the profits within just a year.
Now, Reda’s initiative is providing job opportunities to youths in the remote oasis. Three engineers and seven casual employees work with him in the Farafra branch. They have since installed 45 solar power stations with capacity ranging from 50 to 75 kilowatts. Each station took about 15 days to construct.
Atia Mohamed, a man in his 80s, lies on a simple wooden bed in a room with no air conditioner, a fan, and a refrigerator, as the temperature approaches 40 degrees Celsius.
Atia came to Ein Altenin more than sixty years ago and built the first house in the village.
“I came here whenwhile I was young so that I could own a farm and irrigate it with water from the Romanian-groundwater well. I tried it, but it dried up after a year,” recalls Atia.
Ein Altenin is the only village in Farafra with no electricity, although a solar power station was built in 2015. This is because it is situated about 20 km away from the center of the oasis.
This situation, which Atia hopes to change one day, has affected him, his children, and grandchildren.
The oasis kept the primal life aspect; gas stove lighting, food baked in traditional ovens made of mud bricks in small quantities to avoid getting spoiled due to lack of refrigerators.
Dr. Mohamed Alkhayat
The chairman of New and Renewable Energy Authority