This project may have measurable impacts in many sectors (health/nutritional, economic, agricultural/environmental, political/organizational); thus, evaluation of the impact of solar electrification in Kalalé requires a multi-pronged research strategy over several scales:
To address the most basic questions of technological, economic, and environmental sustainability, we are carefully tracking all garden inputs (labor, money, water, fertilizer, pesticide, etc.) and outputs (total yield, percent consumed at home, selling price and location for produce sold). These data give us a first estimate of project economic and nutritional impact, which can be compared with household survey data (see below). Additionally, we monitor the performance and exact maintenance requirements for the solar-powered drip systems. Over the first two years of operation, we will know the true cost and economic and carbon payback times* for these systems so we can quantify the relative merits of this system (versus alternative technologies) and assess potential for financing and replication.
[*The carbon payback time of a system is the length of time it takes to become net carbon-neutral--i.e., the total clean power delivered by the system (measured in carbon equivalent) surpasses the total carbon footprint generated in manufacturing, delivering, installing, and maintaining it.]
For the purposes of evaluation, the district of Kalalé can be viewed as a system divided into two groups for comparison: villages that have already received the solar technologies (agricultural and general electrification), and those that have not yet received them. Randomizing the order of village implementation and using the not-yet-electrified villages as a "control group" allows us to more accurately separate the impact of the project itself from other factors.
We are conducting a cross-sectional and longitudinal household-level survey of (a) members of women's garden groups, and (b) a representative sample of non-members in the two project pilot villages and several control/comparison villages. We conducted the first iteration of this survey at the end of installation but before any harvest from the gardens (November 2007), giving us a detailed baseline understanding of the socio-economic/health/organizational levels and labor practices in the villages. We will repeat the survey after one to two years such that we can sensitively measure changes within and across villages, and analyze factors contributing to project success.
We have trained a team of "market monitors" who travel to each of the 25 district markets 1-2 times per month and note the total quantity of price of available produce. This allows us to track price changes over the year (of both garden products and staples), and to "watch" the diffusion of products from the solar gardens in the district markets. From these data, we can calculate the change in micronutrient availability to the district, as well as the capacity of regional demand to sustain additional gardens.
To avoid confounding factors in our analysis, we track external shocks to the system: elections, national- or commune- level policy changes (fixing the yearly price of cotton or introducing a micro-credit scheme, for example), technological and infrastructural changes (cellphone coverage, new wells), weather, etc. Additionally, we are conducting interviews with local officials, school directors, health clinic workers, and organizational leaders to better understand the cultural climate surrounding the project, and to better grasp any non-quantitative or elusive effects.