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Solargen’s climate smart agriculture in N. Eastern Kenya

North Eastern Kenya is one of the regions hardest hit by perennial drought and famine. The situation has been made worse by the effects of climate change as the region has not received adequate rainfall for the past 5 years. As a result, the livelihood of the nomadic communities in the area is now threatened with many abandoning the villages to set up camp in urban centers. The continued rural-urban migration is expected to exacerbate food insecurity in the region unless concerted efforts are made to scale up food production through climate smart agriculture.

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t may not be known to many but the region has great potential for agriculture. Tana river, the longest river in Kenya, cuts right in the middle of Garissa town while Mandera has a seasonal river called Dawa. The areas along the banks of the two rivers are very fertile and can be used for irrigation farming. Though underutilized, the farmers along the two rivers produce some of the sweetest bananas and watermelons in Kenya. They also grow tomatoes, mangoes, onions and lemons. Wajir on the other hand has a water table that is near the ground surface making water easily available through the sinking of boreholes and shallow wells.

I n spite of the potential, the farmers in the area are currently a frustrated lot with many contemplating quitting farming. The biggest challenges they face are the high cost of farm inputs and exploitation by middle men who offer them low prices for their produce. The farmers lack the knowledge and the support to employ modern techniques of farming resulting in crop failures and poor yields. Those who manage to get good harvest sell their produce to aggregators who dictate the prices. The farmers lack refrigeration facilities to preserve their produce to enable them fetch better prices in the market. When it rains elsewhere, especially in the slopes of Mt. Kenya, the river Tana bursts its banks and floods the entire area under cultivation. The farms become inaccessible and the produce is left to rot in the fields. The area is also infested with parasites that the farmers are unable to control. While the people of the North are not known for farming, these challenges have made farming even more unattractive.

It is against this backdrop that Solargen Technologies Limited, a leading energy, water and irrigation solutions provider, recently set up its regional headquarters in Wajir to offer farmers integrated solutions that comprises irrigation technologies, production planning, training, financing and market linkages. In the pilot phase, Solargen will design and install solar powered drip irrigation systems for 40 farmers on Pay As You Go (PAYGO) financing model. The system will enable the farmers harness Solar energy to power their water pumps instead of using costly diesel powered generators while the drip irrigation will ensure optimal use of water.

The Pilot phase is targeting farmers with over 3 acres of arable land and a source of water, either from the river or underground. The farmer selection process is currently ongoing.

Cognizant of the saying; you reap what you sow, the farmers will be supported right from the selection of seeds and fertilizers and in the analysis of soil type and water requirements. Solargen is investing in long term relationships with reputable suppliers of seeds and fertilizers allowing it to propose quality and affordable options to the farmers. During the course of the production, the farmers will have access to expert advice from agronomists and extension officers employed by Solargen. The farmers will also be trained on farming best practices to equip them with skills that will make them more resilient in facing their day to day challenges. We have set up a model farm adjacent to our Wajir office that will be used by the farmers for benchmarking.

To mitigate the post-harvest challenges of market access, Solargen plans to, in the short term, have agreements with off-takers of horticultural produce such as hotels, restaurants and exporters. However, plans are already underway to build refrigeration facilities in each of the counties to enable farmers preserve their produce and access lucrative local and international markets.

For this plan to bear fruits, Solargen will work with all stakeholders including government, developmental agencies, local leaders and communities. The transformation of Northern Kenya into a leading horticultural producer will require the collective effort of every stakeholder. We plan to do our part.

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Growth of solar energy in Kenya and its potential

It is almost a century since the modern solar cell was invented. Solar technology has been evolving since and it is now one of the most affordable and reliable sources of renewable energy in many rural parts of the developing world.

With the advent of the 21st century came the increased uptake of solar energy in Kenya. This coincided with the increased penetration of Mobile phones and surge in the number of middle-income Kenyans. Access to electricity became a necessity where each household required at least a charging point for their phones. Therefore, Solar became the main power option for many households and small businesses that were not connected to the grid. Today, Kenya has one of the highest solar power connections per capita in the developing world, just second to India.

Solar for productive use has also evolved over the years. Solar is now applied across a spectrum of applications ranging from water pumping, lighting, heating, ventilation and irrigation. The applications range from mega plants, with the largest plant in the world currently located in India with a capacity of 2,700 MW, to small PICO solar systems that use small light weight photovoltaic panels to generate power in a wide range of small and portable applications such as lanterns, shavers, incubators, amplifies etc.

 Despite the government efforts in rural electrification, almost 17 million Kenyans do not have access to any form of electricity. In addition, those with access are looking for other alternative sources of power due to the high cost and unreliability of the supply from Kenya power, the only power utility company in Kenya. Many have installed solar either as back up (to have power during power cuts) or to reduce their power costs. Particularly, industrial and huge commercial enterprises such as manufacturing companies, petrol stations and malls have embraced solar energy to reduce their power bills with some like Kenya Breweries opting to go completely off-grid in the next few years.

The government of Kenya has played some role, though ambivalent sometimes, in the growth of solar energy in Kenya. The government decision to remove duty and exempt VAT on solar equipment such as panels, batteries and controllers has played a major role in making solar power affordable to many Kenyans. Although the solar market in Kenya is largely driven by the private sector, the government has in the recent past embarked on large solar power plants that feed to the national grid. The Garissa solar power station with 55MW capacity is the largest grid-connected solar plant in East and Central Africa.

However, challenges still abound the solar sector which has limited the realization of its full potential. Some of the major challenges include;

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Lack of access to finance- The initial cost of purchasing solar is still fairly high and many customers lack the finances to pay for the system upfront. The options available for financing solar are minimal with banks and other financial institutions shying away from coming up with products that target the solar market. To bridge the gap some solar companies are now offering PAYGO (Pay As You Go) financing model whereby a customer pays some deposit and the balance in installments over a period of time.

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Lack of awareness- There is general lack of awareness, especially in rural areas, about the available solar options and their benefits. Increasing awareness will enable people to understand and make informed decisions. Currently, many people rely on user experience from people they interact with and if that experience is not good due to factors such as quality of equipment used or workmanship, the perception about solar may be distorted.

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Skilled labor- There are no many experts in the solar sector. The Energy regulation requires only licensed technicians to design and install solar but most technicians are self-trained and operate without a license. This affects the quality of solutions that are offered to customers hence diminishing customer experience in using solar.

“Despite the aforementioned challenges, Solar energy will continue to play crucial role in providing clean energy to existing and future generations in Kenya.”

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Solargen opens its nothern Kenya HQ in Wajir

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olargen has opened a new branch in Wajir to serve Garissa, Wajir and Mandera Counties.
The region is aptly suited for solar solutions since it receives almost 12 hours of sunshine in a day. Despite this God given endowment, the residents
have suffered perennial blackouts that last for weeks. This has affected economic growth and the quality of life of the residents with many businesses incurring substantial losses due to unreliable power supply.

It is in this backdrop that Solargen decided to set base in the region to offer value added solutions to the locals. The vision of Solargen is to transform Northern Kenya and make it a leading horticultural producer through climate smart irrigation technologies. Solargen works closely with the farmers by providing them with integrated solutions that comprises of irrigation technologies, financing, production planning, seedlings, training, and market linkages.

The official opening ceremony was graced by the CEO of Frontier Counties Development Council (FCDC), Mr. Mohamed Guleid who delivered a key note speech emphasizing the need for indigenous companies to come back and offer solutions to problems afflicting the region. He confirmed that with the right technology and the requisite training for the local farmers, Northern Kenya can easily grow its own food and become self-sufficient.

On his part the Deputy Governor of Wajir, Mr. Hashim, thanked the Directors and the management of Solargen for choosing Wajir as the main operation base for Northern Kenya. He commended the company for delivering a number of quality projects in the County and reiterated that the County Government of Wajir will continue partnering with Solargen in energy and water projects in the county.

The CEO and Founder of Solargen, Mr. Abubakar affirmed the commitment of Solargen to transform the lives of the people in the region by providing affordable energy, Water and irrigation solutions on lease to own basis that is based on Islamic financing principles. Customers will be required to pay a deposit and the balance in installments over a period of time.

Also, in attendance were developmental partners such as USADF, ACDI VOCA, WFP, World Vision, Mercy Corps, IRK, CEZAM and Stanford Seed.

The office is completely powered by Solar and has a water treatment plant with the capacity to produce 10,000 liters of clean water per day. Adjacent to the office is a demonstration farm that will be used to train the farmers on best agricultural practices.

 

This investment is a testament of the company’s long term plans for the region.

“ There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning failure ” -Tina Retina