African climate innovators dominate global climate prize at COP26

Four African climate innovators were named as winners at 2021’s presigious Ashden Awards held on November 4 at the global climate summit COP26 in Glasgow, UK. Three more of the continent’s low carbon pioneers were announced as runners up.

The Ashden Awards honour pioneering organisations from the UK and low-income countries lowering carbon emissions and building a fairer world.

World leaders and international organisations are gathering in Glasgow from November 1 to 13 to agree a global plan for tackling the climate crisis.

The key note speech at the awards ceremony was given by Costa Rican President, Carlos Alvarado, who said:

“We share the conviction that sustainable development goes hand in hand with economic growth, as well as a deep commitment to decarbonization and to promote nature-based solutions to the climate crisis and biodiversity loss challenges we face. For that, I do believe the great endeavour of our generation is to abolish fossil fuels.

“In this pivotal moment for the future of humankind we also need to highlight trailblazing, inspiring efforts to build a better, livable world for current and future generations. That is what the Ashden Awards are about.”

Two of the African winners are Ugandan, one organistion is from Kenya and one from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Winners receive grants, publicity and support to grow and replicate their innovation.

YICE Uganda, a grassroots initiative training women, young people and refugees, in regenerative farming techniques, won the Ashden Award for Regenerative Agriculture. 

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Photo: Regenerative agriculture techniques, such as those taught by YICE Uganda are essential in order to maintain agricultural outputs in changing climate. A farmer refilling her irrigation kit. Credit: YICE

New Energy Nexus Uganda, which provides low-cost clean energy loans and business coaching to rural community-based organisations, won the Ashden Award for Energy Access Innovation.

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Photo: An energy entrepreneur testing the lighting capability of a solar lantern during a New Energy Nexus Uganda boot camp. Credit: New Energy Nexus

Mbou Mon Tour from Democratic Republic of Congo won the Ashden Award for Natural Climate Solutions with its unique community-based forest management initiative. This combines a range of community income generation schemes with the protection of the endangered bonobo great ape.


Photo: Conserving the forest through a move from slash-and-burn agriculture to savannah farming, plus ecotourism involving studying the almost extinct bonobo great ape are both part of the community forest management success story by Mbou Mon Tour in the DRC. Credit: Mbou Mon Tour

Kenyan organisation Solar Freeze, providers of sustainable and affordable refrigeration service for food and medicine in refugee camps, won the Ashden Award for Humanitarian Energy.

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Photo: training young people at Kakuma refugee camp in solar skills. Credit: Solar Freeze

Africa also dominated among the runners up in the awards. Runners up included KOKO Networks  a Kenyan organisation which provides ‘ethanol ATMs’ supplying cleaner cooking fuel made from sugar industry waste. Also in Kenya, the SNV – Kakuma Market Based Energy Access Project supports local clean energy entrepreneurs in Kakuma refugee camp and their local host community, with a focus on cooking and lighting. Finally, Sendea Academy in Uganda is a collective of locally-owned SMEs driving up standards and providing training in the off-grid renewables sector.

The four African winners and three runners up were chosen from over 800 applicants for their work creating resilience, green economies – including jobs and training – and fairer societies.

Climate solutions charity Ashden has been spotlighting and supporting climate and energy innovators in low-income countries and the UK since 2001. Awards are judged by international specialists on each award category and given to organisations delivering proven, ready-to-scale climate solutions. Ashden works with businesses, non-profits and public sector organisations.

Harriet Lamb, Ashden CEO, said:  “At this year’s Ashden Awards, African climate pioneers really led the way in showcasing bold, brilliant and ground-breaking initiatives – across energy innovation, nature-based solutions and sustainable agriculture. These Ashden Award winners have shown how societies can reduce emissions while also improving people’s lives.

Messages from the winners to the COP26 politicians highlighted the urgency of the moment and the solutions that are in place to respond at scale and at speed:

Noah Ssempijja, founder and Programme Director at YICE Uganda said: “Two of the three major causes of climate change are deforestation and intensive agriculture which emits greenhouse gases – so let’s invest in grassroots initiatives to curb down these practices.”

Penny Penny Mbabazi Atuhaire, Director of Strategic Partnerships, New Energy Nexus Uganda said: “The climate crisis requires all hands on deck. That’s why we need to invest in a diverse range of entrepreneurs with ideas and innovations that will power the clean energy transition.”

Dysmus Kisilu,  founder of Solar Freeze said: “To engage communities and take on the climate crisis, we must create new, green jobs – so let’s invest in skills and training.”

“The message to leaders at COP26 is loud and clear,” concluded Harriet Lamb. “If they get behind such practical and proven climate solutions a zero carbon world is within our reach.”

Go to Ashden’s YouTube channel to watch The Ashden Awards ceremony.