Sun Exchange crowdfunding offers a (Nhimbe) Fresh start


pv magazine: What can you say about the crowdsale for Nhimbe Fresh?

Abraham Cambridge: The $1.4 million Nhimbe Fresh crowdsale is phase-one funding for a three-phase project and our largest funding campaign so far, with more than 1,700 individuals from across 98 countries. This phase one funding is twice the size of our previous largest project and we look forward to completing the installation somewhere around August this year.

What challenges did you encounter while running this crowdsale?

AC: Being our 39th project, this crowdsale was everything as usual, except that we had several people using Bitcoin, unlike before. We also realized our goal to have the project sold out within the specified time limit.

Being a first phase funding, we'll have two more for the other two phases once we're done installing solar power and storage facilities for the cold store.

To what extent do you think this kind of innovative funding is changing the view on solar and climate change worldwide?

AC: This project proved that individuals across the globe are willing to invest in a more sustainable energy future provided they are empowered with innovative technology and that they can take part in an energy revolution by unlocking potential in ways … traditional finance cannot.

Through The Sun Exchange, people are also finding ways to take action and make an impact as far as clean and sustainable energy is concerned. I think people are tired of putting their money in banks; instead, they now want to see their money used in sustainable and long-term solar projects where they can also earn a competitive monthly income stream.

To Edwin Moyo: Tell us more about Nhimbe Fresh and the company's primary services and products.

EM: Nhimbe Fresh is a premier African exporter of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, stone fruit, snap peas, and snow peas. We are pioneering new and profitable ways of doing agribusiness through sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Why did you decide to ‘go solar'?

EM: We decided to go solar a long time ago. The problem we were facing was funding the solar projects. Most of our operations require consistent power and frequent outages mean spoilage and low-quality farm produce. At Nhimbe Fresh, we need power from the irrigation points to refrigeration shelves, and The Sun Exchange presented us with the ultimate solution we've yearned for [for] years.

Why The Sun Exchange? What attracted you to its funding program?

EM: Through The Sun Exchange platform anyone, anywhere in the world, can easily buy solar cells and automatically lease those cells to be installed in high-impact solar projects such as the one we're installing at Nhimbe Fresh, powering businesses in sunny emerging markets.

Even more interesting is that these solar cell owners will offset their carbon footprint while earning a rental income stream from the clean electricity generated … Businesses like Nhimbe Fresh can go solar at no upfront cost, minimizing energy costs and climate impact.

What are the immediate benefits of using solar in your company?

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EM: With reliable solar power, we'll also have more control of every company's operation. The quality of our farm produce will also increase, hence more value and increased revenue that we can then channel to our out-growers [smallholding farmers who supply produce to Nhimbe Fresh] to boost their livelihood.

Our out-growers currently produce 40% of the total production and our target is to empower and support them so we can have 70% of our produce from out-growers.

What are the financial benefits of using solar in terms of cost-saving, compared to grid electricity?

EM: First, solar is expensive to install but cheap to maintain. Secondly, our monthly solar [electricity] charges will be 10% cheaper than [grid] electricity, not to mention the [savings represented by avoiding the] cost of not having power for five days or, even worse, 10 to 15 days a month.

By accessing reliable solar power at a lower cost through The Sun Exchange platform, we'll save approximately $2 million on solar installation and reduce overall energy costs by roughly 60%.

What are the environmental benefits of using solar at your company?

EM: This is the first crowdsale of a three-phase solar-plus-storage project that will enable us to operate entirely on solar power. Since solar power is replacing coal and diesel energy sources, our carbon emissions will be reduced by more than one million kilograms per year.

How has solar impacted employee morale and retention?

EM: Our employees are so excited that we are going fully solar, and utterly independent of the national grid. There is a sense of belonging that comes with this milestone and we can already see it in our employees. Similarly, our customers and clients embrace the idea of going solar as they would want to be associated with a company that's environmentally aware and friendly.

Talk to us about Nhimbe's sustainability program of investing in the community, environment, and infrastructure.

EM: At Nhimbe Fresh, we are well aware and concerned about our farmers' and employees' welfare. We already have measures and programs in place that cater to their wellbeing, now and after their retirement. For instance, we partner with financial providers to ensure our managers [can] access mortgages at competitive rates. Similarly, we build decent retirement homes for our workers and farmers.

Nhimbe Fresh is growing, and we are putting up new technology and infrastructure to make sure our workforce has the means and support they need to deliver their best. We have schools, housing units, roads, shops, and clinics that serve our employees and farmers within the company. We are also in … talks with our London contacts as we want to import Covid vaccines for farmers and employees. These are some of the initiatives we are pushing to ensure the wellbeing of our people.

Any last thoughts about the recent crowdsale?

EM: I want to thank [The] Sun Exchange for their innovative platform that is changing the status quo as far as solar financing is concerned. Through the support of our partners, such as The Sun Exchange and [lender] Old Mutual, we are now on a path to achieving our goal of producing high-quality products that make a difference in the market.

Both interviews have been edited for clarity, style and length.

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