Towards Sustainable Energy and Entrepreneurship in Rural Kenya

SEED Project team engages with locals at Olderkesi shopping centre

Lying somewhere between the Loita/Ngurman hills and the Maasai Mara National Reserve, is the remote but mesmerizing, idyllic and serene Olderkesi location in Narok West sub-county, approximately 100 kilometers from Narok town. At slightly over 20 kilometers from the closest powered small town of Naikarra, Olderkesi shopping Centre is completely off the national grid, and the hospitable Maasai community that call this place home have no sustainable access to electricity.

This called for a feasibility study visit by a multi-disciplinary team from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and the Kenya Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation (REREC), working under the Sustainable Energies and Entrepreneurship Development (SEED) project, November 27, 2020. The SEED Project is an initiative geared towards providing sustainable renewable energy to marginalized communities with no access to electricity.

The implementation of the project will entail the co-creation of mini grids for, and with people in rural communities, based on solar and at a later phase, biomass. According to the College of Engineering and Technology (COETEC) acting Principal, Dr. Eng. Hiram Ndiritu who led the JKUAT team, the initiative is meant to supplement the efforts of the national and county governments in supplying energy for all as well as create opportunities for gainful entrepreneurship activities that add value to communities’ livelihoods.

During the feasibility study, the JKUAT and REREC teams engaged community members, who expressed optimism about the project, pinpointing what a gamechanger it would be if the place had access to electricity. The area chief, Nicholas Kipees, expressed gratitude to the University for settling on a little-known location in Narok County for the social-impact driven project.

“As you can see, we have a primary and secondary school around here, as well as a small hospital. The schools have a total population of around 1600 students coming from far and wide, some even from neighboring Tanzania. Having a sustainable source of energy will mean a lot to the community,” he said.

Dr. Ndiritu and Ms. Jackline Mwende (SEED Local Coordinating Officer), engage Mzee Takeu Koshal (centre) at Olderkesi centre

Echoing his sentiments, Mzee Takeu Koshal who chairs the community’s Land Adjudication Committee, affirmed that having electricity in the area would mean better economic prospects for their people. “With electricity here, Olderkesi center will not be the same again. Our women will be able to conduct more business activities, our young people will start businesses and get empowered here, and we may even have irrigation to spearhead agri-business since as you can see this place is very dry,” he emphasized.

Ahead of the bumpy ride to Olderkesi, the University team held a consultative meeting with the Narok County Government officials, including officials from the Ministry of Energy, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), and The Kenya Off-Grid Solar Access Project (KOSAP). Speaking at the meeting, the County Director of Energy, Peter Chebargei, lauded the JKUAT team for adopting a multi-agency approach to the project.

“As a County, we are ready to walk this progressive journey with you, and we will ensure the project is sustainable even after completion,” he assured.

Premised on Sustainable Development Goal number seven; Access to Affordable, Reliable, Sustainable and Modern energy for all, the SEED Project is funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Its focus is on powering rural areas within countries in the Global South that are not yet entirely connected to the grid. JKUAT successfully bid for the project, and is undertaking it in conjunction with the Technical University of Munich, Germany.

The JKUAT SEED Project Team with officials from Narok County Government.

Seven other universities are implementing the project in their respective countries, including Bahir Dar University (Ethiopia), Bandung Institute of Technology (Indonesia), Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (India), Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana), Makerere University (Uganda), Namibia University of Science and Technology (Namibia), and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (Peru).

With the project expected to run for five years, a SEED Centre has since been established under the College of Engineering and Technology, with the steering committee comprising of Prof. Eng. Bernard Ikua (DVC Administration), Dr. Eng. Hiram Ndiritu (Ag. Principal COETEC), and Prof. Willy Muturi (School of Business). In place also is a multi-disciplinary project implementation team that includes postgraduate students, researchers, and local coordinating officers.

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