Koenders' speech at signing of 'Sustainable Energy Solutions for Africa' partnership

Happiness is five green lights

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The internationally renowned, award-winning tattoo king-cum-musician Bill Gold once said: "Happiness is five green lights in a row."

Now, we don't expect the Schokland Accord, ‘Green Light for Africa', or its practical implementation in the agreement we are signing today, 'Sustainable Energy Solutions Africa', to create green waves to speed up the traffic. Together with Philips and, in particular, our African partners, what we want –¬ no, what we are going to do ¬– is quite simply create ten million green lights. We are going to give ten million people – chiefly in rural Africa – access to sustainable light before the year 2015.

why it is necessary

And sustainable light is badly needed. The fact is that one in every three people in the world still relies on traditional energy sources such as firewood, crop residues and dung. Collecting it takes a lot of time and is often bad for the environment. Kerosene lamps provide light but they are unhealthy fire hazards and are of poor quality. What's more, the sharp rise in oil prices in recent years has made them relatively expensive. And that's something we in the Netherlands can also appreciate: Africa and the Netherlands sometimes share the same shortages. Lack of light means millions of people in rural Africa cannot work in the evening and children cannot do their homework. Hospitals, businesses and factories can barely operate properly. Development opportunities are frustrated and the quality of life is limited. Access to modern energy is a precondition for development. By providing a high quality product, designed to meet the needs of the local market, the rechargeable solar lamp will finally give the poor access to reliable electric light, even in places where there is no electricity grid.

modern development cooperation

The partnership agreement we are signing today is an example of how we must approach development cooperation in today's world. By learning from each other. By investing in creative solutions. And by working with organisations in Africa to bring the Millennium Development Goals a step closer. And it speaks volumes that a company like Philips thinks this approach is profitable. Let's not be pessimistic. There is economic growth in Africa. And in an expanding market there are also opportunities for a company like Philips. But an extra effort is needed to make the most of the development potential.

What is so pleasing about what we are doing today, is that we are combining the creativity, enterprise and profit that Philips can provide with the creativity and experience of African organisations and with the expertise available at my ministry. We are creating a win-win situation. And that is what the Schokland initiative is all about. The poorest people in Africa are better off, Philips is better off and the Millennium Development Goals are a step nearer.

the MDGs

The first Millennium Development Goal, for example, is to halve extreme hunger and poverty. Every day, 25,000 people die from malnutrition. Every day! And every six seconds, a child dies of hunger! About 850 million people in the world do not have enough money to buy the basic food they need. And the sharp rise in food prices is making the situation even worse. The only way to improve their position is to develop the enormous potential that Africa has as a new granary. To bring farmland into full production. This achieves two goals at the same time: the increase in food production will reduce scarcity and hunger, and small farmers in Africa and elsewhere will benefit economically.

We are improving the situation through macro-solutions. By supporting rural policy in a number of African countries. And by means of smaller, smart solutions such as today's initiative. Smart solutions have an enormous impact. Not only on the economy but also on the environment. By reducing the use of fossil fuels such as kerosene, for example, solar lamps will also improve the climate.

The deal is as follows: my ministry and Philips will each invest three million euros. Philips will put the money into product development, research, training and distribution. Through my and hunger, and small farmers in Africa and elsewhere will benefit economically.

We are improving the situation through macro-solutions. By supporting rural policy in a number of African countries. And by means of smaller, smart solutions such as today's initiative. Smart solutions have an enormous impact. Not only on the economy but also on the environment. By reducing the use of fossil fuels such as kerosene, for example, solar lamps will also improve the climate.

The deal is as follows: my ministry and Philips will each invest three million euros. Philips will put the money into product development, research, training and distribution. Through my people, my embassies and community-based organisations in Africa, I will invest in raising awareness, training small businessmen in Africa, setting up micro-credit institutions and establishing a sustainable trading system that benefits small traders most of all.

Let me be quite clear, this is not something for nothing. Giving things away for free often proves unsustainable. People in rural Africa currently use kerosene and batteries. They will soon be able to buy solar lamps, paying for them in instalments with the aid of micro-credit. After one or two years, they will have paid for their sustainable lamps and the only costs they incur – minor ones – will be for maintenance.

conclusion: light and resolution

Together, we will reach the poorest people in Africa. It is therefore a great pleasure for me to put my signature to this agreement. A signature that stands not only for light but also for resolution. From everyone who is here today. Together, we are embarking upon a very special adventure: we are investing in Africa. We are investing in people. And the profits will be shared by the Netherlands and Africa. With a high personal and environmental return. The future could hardly be brighter!

Thank you.