Which green energy technologies will boost jobs and income? Farmers in Kitui, Kenya decide

Informed by the needs and priorities of local communities, a project in Kitui county, Kenya has been exploring how green energy technologies can create employment and generate more profit for agriculture and poultry farmers. Guest blogger Kelvin Muthui tells us more.

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Insight by 
Kelvin Muthui
Kelvin Muthui is programme coordinator in the governance and advocacy team of Caritas, Kitui
06 April 2022
A man stands behind a desk raising an object in the air as he makes a demonstration to people seated in a semi-circle around him.

A technician of Mwezi Solar company delivers a session on the usage of solar-powered incubators to poultry farmers in Kitui East sub-county, Kitui, Kenya (Photo: copyright Kelvin Kitonga/Caritas Kitui)

In Swahili

The blazing sun that beats down on Kitui county in eastern Kenya presents abundant opportunities for generating clean, green energy to power local economies and create jobs and income.

Caritas Kitui, Loughborough University and IIED have been working alongside Kitui county government and in close collaboration with local communities to explore how business packages incorporating green solar energy technologies can boost employment and income for agriculture and poultry farmers. The project is funded by UK PACT.

Energy challenges facing farmers in Kitui: what we learnt

A scoping survey of farmers across five Kitui sub-counties – Kitui Central, Kitui Rural, Kitui East, Mwingi Central and Kitui South – was a useful starting point for helping us understand the energy needs of farmers, and the barriers to affordable green energy.

Agriculture: prosperous agriculture needs reliable irrigation. Solar-powered water pumps offer mitigation prospects by providing a cleaner alternative to petrol pumps. However, solar pumps are less powerful; dependence on the sun also restricts usage to farming activities carried out before the sun sets.

Farmers cited high upfront costs of buying and installing the solar panels needed to power the pumps; they also expressed concern at the risks of theft and vandalism since the solar systems are installed in open places. Geographical accessibility was a further hurdle: solar water pumps require large panels that can only be bought from major towns, often up to 90km away.

Poultry: poultry farming, as with agriculture, depends on a reliable electricity supply. Power cuts across Kitui are common – our scoping survey found two-thirds of farms connected to the grid experience problems with power supply. These problems are more common in remote, rural areas rather than peri-urban and urban areas.

One farmer, whose main source of income came from the sale of chicks, explained that successful incubation needs a constant temperature generated by a continuous electricity flow. The farmer explained how, in one instance, her whole incubator of 192 eggs had spoiled following a five-day power cut. With chicks selling for KSh100 each, the farmer lost KSh19,200 (the equivalent of US$167) in revenue as well as incurring running costs of around KSh5,500.

Solar egg incubators offer a reliable back-up if grid connectivity fails. But capacity is a challenge as these incubators accommodate fewer eggs than standard grid-connected incubators.

Farmers also highlighted that energy is needed not only for running incubators but for lighting poultry houses and security lighting – both of which are needed after sunset at 6pm.

Promoting clean, green business models

The next stage was to get feedback from farmers on business models developed under the Kitui County Energy Plan alongside the Kitui County government, as part of a comprehensive technical assistance package.

We presented the models in workshops to four different communities: 42 women and 25 men. The workshops were highly inclusive to ensure views of marginalised groups were captured: farmers, energy investors and local government representatives were joined by youth representatives, the elderly, civil society organisations, people with disabilities and religious groups among others.


Watch guest author Kelvin Muthui discuss green energy technologies

Taking the long view

The scoping survey had shown that farmers tend to think short term – from season-to-season – and that they make investments depending on what they can afford in the coming months.

The risks of high upfront costs make farmers uneasy: they prefer to invest in technologies they can pay back in a single harvest season. So green energy technologies, often costing ten times the price of grid-powered equipment, are rarely considered a viable option.

But a longer trajectory – perhaps over a five-year period – shows that green energy technologies incur comparatively low running and maintenance costs. While supporting a general shift to low-carbon development, green energy technologies can bring greater profit for farmers over the longer term.

Farmer feedback: why cooperative models work

Farmers working in cooperatives is not common in Kitui, with most selling their produce individually from the farm gate and putting proceeds directly towards household needs.

But cooperatives enable farmers to pool resources and share costs – whether for the purchase of equipment, for energy bills or for other non-energy expenses in the value chain.

The cooperative models we presented would enable group members to club together to share the cost of green energy technologies. They emerged as the most popular during the workshops.

Discussions explored how seed capital could support cooperatives to buy produce from farmers. Farmers would not need to sell produce immediately after harvest but could instead sell to the cooperative. This would bring in income while also awaiting dividends from profit margins made later from the cooperative’s voluminous sales.

Cooperatives: circumventing inequitable gender norms

Poultry businesses are cheaper to start up and run, and women farmers tend to dominate this sector. But due to inequitable gender norms across Kenya, women farmers do not have access to capital, nor collateral to secure loans for investments to grow their businesses.

While women run their poultry businesses and generate income, it is the man – considered the head of the household – who controls most of the major investment decisions. And one study shows that the more successful women’s farming businesses become, the more likely it is that the man will step in and take control.

Cooperative models would allow women members to access cash advances against their deposit of produce after harvesting. They could pool their resources with other women farmers to invest in green energy technologies while splitting other upfront and running costs. This model also invites knowledge sharing – particularly valuable when embarking on the use of a new, unfamiliar technology.

Strengthening the cooperative model

While cooperative models show great potential, they need interest and input from community groups to strengthen governance and leadership structures.

Good governance is key for driving the purpose, vision and values of the cooperative. It also supports robust record keeping and financial management, and other systems that enable cooperatives to run smoothly − bringing healthy economic results.

Farmers need to build their skills, knowledge and experience to manage cooperatives efficiently, so they can operate effectively in increasingly competitive markets.

Ni teknolojia gani ya nishati ya kijani itakayoongeza ajira na mapato? Wakulima wa Kitui, Kenya waamua

Kulingana na mahitaji na vipaumbele vya jamii za wenyeji, mradi katika kaunti ya Kitui, Kenya umechunguza jinsi teknolojia za nishati ya kijani zinaweza kutengeneza ajira na kuongeza faida kwa wakulima na wafugaji wa kuku. Mwanablogu mgeni Kelvin Muthui anatueleza zaidi.

A man stands behind a desk raising an object in the air as he makes a demonstration to people seated in a semi-circle around him.

Jua kali linaloangaza kaunti ya Kitui, mashariki mwa Kenya linatoa fursa nyingi za kuzalisha nishati safi na ya kijani ili kuimarisha uchumi wa ndani na kuunda nafasi za kazi na mapato. 

Caritas Kitui, Chuo Kikuu cha Loughborough na IIED wakifanya kazi pamoja na serikali ya kaunti ya Kitui na kwa ushirikiano wa karibu pamoja na jamii husika ili chunguza jinsi vifurushi vya biashara vinavyojumuisha sola ya teknolojia ya nishati ya kijani vinaweza kuongeza ajira na mapato kwa wakulima na wafugaji wa kuku. Mradi huo unafadhiliwa na UK PACT

Changamoto za nishati zinazowakabili wakulima wa Kitui: tulichojifunza 

Uchunguzi wa haraka wa wakulima katika kaunti ndogo tano za Kitui - Kitui ya Kati, Kitui Vijijini, Kitui Mashariki, Mwingi ya Kati na Kitui Kusini - ulikuwa chanzo cha msingi katika uelewa wetu wa mahitaji ya nishati ya wakulima, na vizuizi vya nishati ya kijani iliyo nafuu. 

Kilimo. Kilimo chenye mafanikio kinahitaji umwagiliaji wa uhakika. Pampu za maji zinazotumia nishati ya sola hutoa matarajio ya njia za utatuzi zilizo safi zaidi kuliko pampu za petroli. Hata hivyo, pampu zinazotumia sola hazina nguvu; utegemezi wa sola unabana matumizi kwa shughuli za kilimo zinazofanyika kabla ya kuzama kwa jua. Hizi pampu pia zinauwezo wa kumudu hali ya ukame, changamoto ya msingi katika eneo la Kitui. 

Wakulima walitaja mitaji mikubwa ya kununua na kufunga paneli za sola zinazohitajika kuwezesha pampu; pia walielezea wasiwasi juu ya hatari za uwizi na uharibifu kwa vile mifumo ya sola inafungwa katika maeneo ya wazi. Ugumu wa kufikia maeneo ya mbali na mazingira magumu ulikuwa kikwazo zaidi: pampu za maji za sola zinahitaji paneli kubwa ambazo zinpatikana katika miji mikubwa tu, mara nyingi kwa umbali wa hadi kilomita 90. 

Kuku. Ufugaji wa kuku, kama ilivyo kwa kilimo, unategemea upatikanaji wa umeme wa uhakika. Migao ya umeme ni jambo la kawaida Kitui - uchunguzi wetu ulikuta wastani wa theluthi mbili ya mashamba yaliyounganishwa na gridi ya taifa na usambazaji wa nishati yanakumbwa na tatizo la ukosefu wa umeme. Matatizo haya ni ya kawaida zaidi katika maeneo ya mbali, vijijini kulinganisha na maeneo ya mijini na ya kukaribia. 

Mkulima mmoja, ambaye chanzo cha mapato kilitokana na mauzo ya vifaranga, alieleza kuwa kuangulia kwa mafanikio kunahitaji joto la kudumu linalotokana na mtiririko wa umeme unaoendelea. Mkulima alieleza jinsi, katika tukio moja, alipoteza mayai yake 192 yote baada ya mashine ya kutotoa mayai kuharibika kutokana na mgao wa umeme wa siku tano. Kwa gharama ya KSh 100 kwa kila kifaranga, mkulima alipoteza mapato ya KSh 19,200 pamoja na kuingia gharama ya uendeshaji wa karibia KSh 5,500. 

Mashine za kutotoa mayai zinazotumia sola huwezesha hifadhi ya kuaminika endapo umeme wa gridi ya taifa utashindwa. Lakini uwezo ni changamoto kwani mashine hizi hubeba mayai machache kuliko za kawaida zinazotumia umeme wa gridi ya taifa. 

Wakulima pia walidokeza kwamba pamoja na kuendesha mashine za kutotoa vifaranga nishati inahitajika pia kwa ajili ya kuwasha taa za vibanda vya kuku na usalama – zote zinahitajika baada ya jua kuzama saa kumi na mbili jioni. 

Kukuza mifano ya biashara safi ya nishati ya kijani 

Hatua iliyofuata ilikuwa ya kupata maoni kutoka kwa wakulima kuhusu miundo ya biashara iliyoandaliwa chini ya Mpango wa Nishati wa Kaunti ya Kitui pamoja na serikali ya Kaunti ya Kitui, kama sehemu ya kifurushi cha kina cha usaidizi wa kiufundi. 

Tuliwasilisha mifano hayo katika warsha kwa jumuiya nne tofauti: wanawake 42 na wanaume 25. Warsha hizo zilihusisha wadao wa aina mbalimbali kuhakikisha maoni ya makundi yaliyotengwa yanakamatwa: wakulima, wawekezaji wa nishati, wakilishi wa serikali za mitaa waliunganishwa na vijana, wazee, mashirika ya kiraia, walemavu na makundi ya kidini miongoni mwa wengine. 

Kuchukua mtazamo mrefu 

Uchunguzi huu wa haraka ulionyesha kuwa wakulima huwa na mawazo ya muda mfupi - kutoka msimu hadi msimu - na kwamba wanawekeza pesa kulingana na kile wanachoweza kumudu katika miezi ijayo. 

Hatari za mitaji mikubwa huwafanya wakulima kukosa raha: wanapendelea kuwekeza katika teknolojia wanazoweza kulipia katika msimu mmoja wa mavuno. Kwa hivyo teknolojia za nishati ya kijani, ambazo mara nyingi zinagharimu mara kumi ya bei ya vifaa vya umeme wa gridi ya taifa, huchukuliwa mara chache kuwa chaguo bora. 

Lakini mtazamo mrefu zaidi - labda katika kipindi cha miaka mitano - unaonyesha kuwa teknolojia ya nishati ya kijani ina gharama nafuu sana ya uendeshaji na matengenezo. Wakati wa kuendana na mabadiliko ya kupunguza utemaji wa kaboni, teknolojia ya nishati ya kijani inaweza kuleta faida kubwa kwa wakulima kwa muda mrefu. 

Maoni ya wakulima: kwa nini mifano ya vyama vya ushirika hufanya kazi 

Sio jambo la kawaida kukuta wakulima wanaofanya kazi kwenye vyama vya ushirika Kitui, huku wengi wakiuza mazao yao binafsi getini mwa mashamba yao na kutumia mapato moja kwa moja katika mahitaji ya kaya. 

Lakini vyama vya ushirika vinawawezesha wakulima kukusanya rasilimali na kugawanya gharama - iwe kwa ununuzi wa vifaa, kwa bili za nishati au kwa gharama zingine katika mnyororo wa thamani zisizo za nishati. 

Mifano tuliyowasilisha ya vyama vya ushirika vingewezesha wanavikundi kuungana pamoja ili kugawanya gharama ya teknolojia ya nishati ya kijani. Vyama hivi viliibuka kuwa maarufu zaidi wakati wa warsha. 

Majadiliano yalichunguza jinsi mtaji wa msingi unaweza kusaidia vyama vya ushirika kununua mazao kutoka kwa wakulima. Wakulima wasingehitaji kuuza mazao mara baada ya kuvuna lakini badala yake wangeweza kuuza kwa ushirika. Hii ingeleta mapato wakati wa kusibiri gawio kutoka kwa viwango vya faida vilivyopatikana baadaye kutokana na mauzo ya jumla ya vyama vya ushirika. 

Vyama vya ushirika: kuepukana na unyanyasaji wa kijinsia 

Biashara ya kuku ni nafuu kuanzisha na kuendesha, na wafugaji kina mama wanaelekea kutawala sekta hii. Lakini kutokana na kanuni zisizo sawa za kijinsia kote nchini Kenya, wakulima wamama hawana mtaji, wala dhamana ya kupata mikopo kwa ajili ya uwekezaji ili kukuza biashara zao. 

Wakati wanawake wanaendesha biashara zao za kuku na kuingiza kipato, ni mwanamume - anayechukuliwa kuwa mkuu wa kaya - ndie anadhibiti maamuzi mengi makubwa ya uwekezaji. Utafiti mmoja unaonyesha kuwa kadiri biashara inavyozidi kufanikiwa uwezekano wa mwanamume kuingilia na kuimiliki biashara unaongezeka.  

Mifano ya vyama vya ushirika vitawaruhusu wanachama wakike kupata mikopo ya fedha dhidi ya amana ya mavuno ya mazao. Wangeweza kukusanya rasilimali zao na wakulima wengine wakike kwa ajili ya kuwekeza katika teknolojia ya nishati ya kijani huku wakigawanya gharama nyingine za awali na za uendeshaji. Mtindo huu pia hualika ushirikiano wa maarifa – wa thamani sana wakati wa kuanza kutumia teknolojia mpya isiyojulikana. 

Kuimarisha muundo wa ushirika 

Wakati mifano ya vyama vya ushirika vikionyesha uwezo mkubwa, vinahitaji ushirikiano na uwekezaji wa vikundi vya jamii ili kuimarisha utawala na miundo ya uongozi. 

Utawala bora ni chanzo cha kuendeleza madhumuni, dira na maadili ya ushirika. Unasaidia pia katika utunzaji wa kumbukumbu thabiti na usimamizi wa fedha, pamoja na mifumo mingine inayowezesha vyama vya ushirika kuendeshwa vizuri - kuzalisha matokeo mazuri ya kiuchumi. 

Wakulima wanahitaji kujenga ujuzi, maarifa na uzoefu wao ili kusimamia vyama vya ushirika kwa ufanisi, ili kuboresha utendaji kwa ufanisi katika masoko ya ushindani. 

Kelvin Muthui ni mratibu wa programu katika timu ya utawala na utetezi wa Caritas, Kitui.

About the author

Kelvin Muthui is programme coordinator in the governance and advocacy team of Caritas Kitui

Kelvin Muthui's picture