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Posts Tagged ‘kenya’

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Photo: Noah Nasiali-Kadima
Noah Nasiali-Kadima, foreground, takes a selfie with members of the Africa Farmers Group during a tour of a member’s farm in Machakos County, Kenya. 

I was reading in the Boston Globe yesterday about a guy who, after surviving a life-threatening brain aneurysm that his doctor misdiagnosed, launched a new career as an activist for aneurysm patients. You have to hand it to such people.

In another example, see what Diane Cole of National Public Radio (NPR) learned when she interviewed an African farmer who turned a major cabbage liability into something much bigger than cabbages.

“Making lemonade out of life’s lemons is one thing. But what could Kenyan IT consultant-turned-farmer Noah Nasiali-Kadima do with the 75,000 fresh cabbages he had been stuck with?

“That was the dilemma he faced in 2016, when the buyer with whom he had a contract simply walked out on him, refusing to pay and leaving him with six acres of ripe cabbages that had cost most of his savings to produce.

“He was uncertain how to proceed, to whom he could turn for help or whether to give up altogether. So he came up with a different idea: That year, he started a Facebook group so that he and other farmers — including new ones like himself, and experienced farm veterans — could discuss and come up with solutions to problems just like this.

“The Africa Farmers Group now has 138,000 online members in Kenya and throughout Africa. He has also organized in-person educational seminars in countries across the continent including South Africa, Nigeria, Somalia and Zambia. The goal is to help farmers learn the skills they need to succeed, by providing forums in which they can share their own stories of success and failure, and offer their peers empathy, encouragement and practical tips. In recognition of his work, in September 2018, Facebook awarded him $1 million as part of its Facebook Community Leadership Program. …

“We spoke to him as he was preparing to participate as a speaker at the Food Tank New York City Summit, a two-day conference sponsored by the sustainable agriculture advocacy group Food Tank. … This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

“First of all, whatever happened to those 75,000 cabbages?
“I sold some, and some went bad on the farm. I gave some away to schools.

“Drought has left almost 3 million people there facing acute food insecurity. How can local farmers be a part of the solution?
“We have a lot of food shortages and food waste. There is a disconnect between the farmers producing the food and then getting it to market and to the people. No one is consulting the farmers themselves about, ‘How much can you produce, what do you need to help you to produce more?’ …

“You started out in technology in 2001, in programming and network management. How did agriculture come into the picture?
“I started out just to make some extra money since the tech space had become saturated. My father is a sugar farmer, and my father-in-law is a tomato farmer. One day in 2007, I was with my wife and my father-in-law and I said to him, ‘I want to be a farmer.’ He looked at me, like, ‘Are you really serious?’ And I said yes. He gave me and my wife a small piece of land, one-quarter of an acre, near his own farm, which is about an hour away from Nairobi. …

“At first this was a side career, a way to make an extra coin. … We started with green bell peppers, switched to tomatoes and watermelons and other crops, one of them cabbages.

“Then you faced the cabbage fiasco in 2016. Was that a turning point for you?
“I thought, this shouldn’t happen to any farmer. How come I can’t sell this produce? I did not know how to market or pitch what I had, or explain the particular quality or type of cabbage I had. …

“I saw how farmers were suffering. We have very many NGOs and very many tech solutions being funded but none that involve the farmers. I also wanted to make a difference, to see if I can start a group with farmers around me where we can talk about problems, who is buying what, what they are doing that is working and what is not. And I just opened a group on Facebook.

“The target was to sign up 3,000 farmers in three months. By the end of those three months, we had 16,000 farmers from across Africa. Some said, ‘Please post in English because I cannot speak Swahili!’

“It was a venue where farmers could talk to each other. I set up weekly online conversations with expert farmers from different regions who have worked with different kinds of soil and crops. Farmers listen to other farmers, so people could ask, ‘What were the challenges, how can we learn from you?’

“Now we have 138,000 members and growing. We also have more than 100,000 offline members in areas where internet connectivity is a challenge. Our motto is sharing is caring.

I have seen farmers who had given up. Then they hear from other farmers who have been through similar experiences. They see what they can do different.

“They learn they can contact this agronomist for more information about this problem, or try a different crop at this time of year, or maybe a particular variety that will do better in a particular climate, or maybe the soil is not right. These are success stories. They learn how to keep going or start again.”

Read more on how the initiative has grown and flourished, here.

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Photo: Nichole Sobecki for NPR
The cypress sapling above was purchased with money received from the charity GiveDirectly in 2017. More recently, the charity teamed up with researchers to study the impact of cash grants on a wider Kenyan community.

Here’s a new way to look at “trickle down.” Unlike the wealthy, who are more likely to put extra cash into savings, poor people who receive cash actually spread the wealth around. Read about the results of a new study in Kenya.

Nurith Aizenman reports at National Public Radio [NPR], “Over the past decade there has been a surge of interest in a novel approach to helping the world’s poor: Instead of giving them goods like food or services like job training, just hand out cash — with no strings attached. Now a major new study suggests that people who get the aid aren’t the only ones who benefit.

“Edward Miguel, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-author of the study, says that until now, research on cash aid has almost exclusively focused on the impact on those receiving the aid. And a wealth of research suggests that when families are given the power to decide how to spend it, they manage the money in ways that improve their overall well-being: Kids get more schooling; the family’s nutrition and health improves.

“But Miguel says that ‘as nonprofits and governments are ramping up cash aid, it becomes more and more important to understand the broader economy-wide consequences.’

“In particular, there has been rising concern about the potential impact on the wider community — the people who are not getting the aid. …

“Miguel and his collaborators teamed up to conduct an experiment with one of the biggest advocates of cash aid. It’s a charity called GiveDirectly that, since 2009, has given out more than $140 million to impoverished families in various African countries.

“The researchers identified about 65,000 households across an impoverished, rural area of Kenya and then randomly assigned them to various groups: those who got no help from GiveDirectly and a ‘treatment group’ of about 10,500 families who got a one-time cash grant of about $1,000. …

“Eighteen months on, the researchers found that, as expected, the families who got the money used it to buy lots more food and other essentials. But that was just the beginning.

” ‘That money goes to local businesses,’ says Miguel. ‘They sell more. They generate more revenue. And then eventually that gets passed on into labor earnings for their workers.’

The net effect: Every dollar in cash aid increased total economic activity in the area by $2.60.

“But were those income gains simply washed out by a corresponding rise in inflation?

” ‘We actually find there’s a little bit of price inflation, but it’s really small,’ says Miguel. ‘It’s much less than 1%.’

“The study — recently released through the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research — also uncovered some evidence for why prices didn’t go up: A lot of local businesses reported that before the cash infusion they weren’t that busy.

“So when they suddenly get more customers, they don’t have to take extra steps like hiring more workers that would drive up their costs — and their prices. In economic parlance, there was enough ‘slack’ in the local economy to absorb the injection of cash.

“Eeshani Kandpal is an economist with the World Bank who has done research of her own on cash transfers — including a study that found that a cash aid program in the Philippines did drive up the cost of certain perishable food items. …

“The new study has a far broader scope, says Kandpal — encompassing not just a much larger number of participants but a vast range of goods and businesses whose pricing practices the researchers meticulously monitored.

” ‘It’s a super credible, interesting study,’ says Kandpal. ‘And very carefully done. … I’d be curious to see if they persist in the longer run,’ she says. ‘Eighteen months is certainly not short. But it’s not terribly long either.’ …

“Michael Faye, co-founder and president of GiveDirectly, says even if it turns out that a one-time cash infusion provides only a temporary boost, ‘I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.’ ”

And wouldn’t you rather see poor folks getting more money than wealthy people and corporations? I myself am doing OK and would really like to experience a more equitable world in my lifetime. More here.

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Photo: Kalume Kazungu / Nation Media Group
The Flipflopi dhow made entirely from recycled marine plastic being prepared on January 24, 2019, to start its inaugural journey from Lamu to Zanzibar.

I like listening to Public Radio International’s The World because it gives me a window on what’s going on in other countries. People living elsewhere on Plant Earth often know what’s going on in the US, but here most of us have blinders on. It’s as if nothing happens anywhere else unless it affects us directly and immediately.

But all people are concerned about the things that concern us, and many are taking action unheralded in America. Some of the most energetic environmentalists are the residents of poor countries who’ve been most hurt by climate change (see Mary Robinson’s eye-opening book Climate Justice) or who have the most plastic clogging their waterways and beaches.

Consider this story about Kenyans trying to raise the consciousness of their own countrymen and others in Africa.

Kalume Kazungu and Eunince Murathe reported in January at Kenya’s Daily Nation, “The dhow made entirely from recycled marine plastic, the world’s first, has set sail from Lamu Old Town and is headed to Stone Town, Zanzibar. … Aboard 16 crew members, all who were involved in the invention of the vessel, will sail south along the coast of Kenya. …

“The Flipflopi’s maiden journey is meant to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution. … It is sailing for approximately 50 to 80 kilometres a day whilst simultaneously broadcasting the #Plasticrevolution message to a global audience. …

“The Flipflopi team will make several stops where they will be visiting schools, communities and government officials as they discuss solutions and changing mind-sets concerning plastic wastes and the importance of maintaining a clean environment free of plastics.

“[Dhow builder Ali] Skanda said he is confident that the Flipflopi will assist in raising awareness on the danger of using plastics and dumping them anyhow along the beaches.

” ‘We are set for our journey to Zanzibar. We will be passing through various towns along the Coast where we will be making some stops to educate the dwellers on how they can maintain clean beaches as well as avoiding plastic disposal on our ocean beaches.

“ ‘Through the Flipflopi invention, we hope people around the world are inspired to find their own ways to repurpose already used plastic so as to maintain clean beaches which are free of plastic wastes,’ said Mr Skanda.

“Mr Shafi Shetai, a Flipflopi crew member, said he believes the dhow will serve to reinforce the need for continued adherence to the already existing plastic ban since it demonstrates how the increasing amounts of plastic garbage can affect not only marine life but also the lives of residents and the economy.

“Mr Shetai said apart from the existing ban on plastic bags, the government should also ban other plastic materials used daily including straws since they are also posing a challenge to the environment. …

“The venture is aptly named the Flipflopi Project as the boat was built by traditional dhow makers led by Mr Skanda using thousands of repurposed flip-flops and ocean plastic collected on beach clean-ups along the Kenyan Coast. Limiting themselves to locally available technology and materials, the builders collected discarded plastics, shredded them into small pieces, then heated them and remolded them. They then carved the plastic parts exactly the same way they would do to wood.”

Read more at the Daily Nation, here. And for additional details, check out the UN Environment press release on the topic, here.

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Photo: Elisa Coltro/Facebook
Nonna Irma, of Noventa Vicentian, Italy, poses with some of the children in the Kenyan orphanage she supports.

News outlets around the world reposted this story about a 93-year-old’s outreach work as described by her granddaughter on Facebook. But I found that BrightSide dug for additional details.

The website reports, “This charming woman from Noventa Vicentina, Italy is Irma, and she is 93 years old. Despite her age, she’s full of energy and desire to change the world for the better. She decided to fly to Kenya to help children in the orphanage there. Her granddaughter shared her grandma’s photos on her Facebook page, which took over the Internet. …

” ‘Irma has always loved life and was never stopped by life’s obstacles,’ her granddaughter [Elisa Coltro] wrote. She knows what difficulties are like and has always tried to help others. Irma lost her husband at 26 and later one of her three children. Her life has not been easy, and she has always relied on her own strength to make it through.

“Many years ago she met Father Remigio, a [missionary] who has spent his life helping the people of Kenya. Irma has supported him for many years. Once she heard that Father Remigio was hospitalized, she made a decision to visit him and all the places he had built during his lifetime, such as hospitals, orphanages and kindergartens.

“Now being in Kenya, Irma helps children as much as she can. She teaches English and Math in the school of Malindi. … Her age never stops her from taking motorcycle rides. Despite all the difficulties she’s faced, she continues to enjoy life. Irma plans to stay in Africa for a few weeks, but there is a possibility that she will want to stay there for good.

“She has always taught her children and grandchildren to help others. Her granddaughter Elisa did volunteer work in refugee camps in Greece in 2016 and 2017.” More here.

One of the things I like best about the story is the sense of a network of fellow travelers. Irma’s daughter went to Kenya with her. Her granddaughter volunteers. And zillions of people loved what Irma is doing enough to share the news on social media. One and one and 50 …

Photo: Elisa Coltro / facebook   

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Photo: Pekka Sipola/EPA
Finland is experimenting with a guaranteed income.

Recently I posted about a guaranteed-income pilot program in Kenya that MIT’s rigorously data-driven Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) will be evaluating over the next few years.

Now I see that Finland is testing the concept, too.

Aditya Chakrabortty wrote about Finland’s experiment last month at the Guardian. “In a speck of a village deep in the Finnish countryside, a man gets money for free. Each month, almost €560 [about $660] is dropped into his bank account, with no strings attached. The cash is his to use as he wants. Who is his benefactor? The Helsinki government.”

Juha Järvinen “is a human lab rat in an experiment that could help to shape the future of the west. Last Christmas, Järvinen was selected by the state as one of 2,000 unemployed people for a trial of universal basic income [UBI]. …

“Finland is the first European country to launch a major dry run. It is not the purists’ UBI – which would give everyone, even billionaires, a monthly sum. Nor will Finland publish any results until the two-year pilot is over at the end of 2018. …

“Ask Järvinen what difference money for nothing has made to his life, and you are marched over to his workshop. Inside is film-making equipment, a blackboard on which is scrawled plans for an artists’ version of Airbnb, and an entire little room where he makes shaman drums that sell for up to €900. All this while helping to bring up six children. All those free euros have driven him to work harder than ever.”

Even more than the money, the freedom from the country’s welfare bureaucracy is key.

“In Finland, €560 is less than a fifth of average private-sector income. … [Järvinen’s] liberation came in the lack of conditions attached to the money. If they so wish, Finns on UBI can bank the cash and do nothing else. But, in Järvinen’s case at least, the sum has removed the fear of utter destitution, freeing him to do work he finds meaningful. …

“Social affairs minister Pirkko Mattila … seems genuinely bemused that there could be any political resistance to handing poor people some money to sit at home. ‘I personally believe that in Finland citizens really want to work,’ she says.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Nichole Sobecki for NPR
This Kenyan hamlet is participating in a cash-distribution experiment. The nonprofit GiveDirectly will give $22 a month for 12 years to people in 200 such villages and compare the results with 100 other Kenyan villages.

MIT-based Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) has been working on poverty alleviation for many years now. The nonprofit describes itself as “a network of 145 affiliated professors from 49 universities. Our mission is to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence.”

A long-term experiment providing Kenyans with a guaranteed income was recently described at National Public Radio. The story caught my attention because my former colleague Erin has been proposing a guaranteed-income approach for years.

NPR’s Nurith Aizenman explains.

“Young guys in dusty polo shirts. New moms holding their babies. Grandmas in bright head wraps. They’ve all gathered in a clearing for one of the village meetings when something remarkable happens. Practically every person’s cellphone starts tinkling.

“It’s a text alert from an American charity called GiveDirectly. Last fall, GiveDirectly announced that it will give every adult in this impoverished village in Kenya an extra $22 each month for the next 12 years — with no strings attached. The money is wired to bank accounts linked to each villager’s phone. The alert is the signal that the latest payment has posted. Everyone starts cheering. Some of the younger women break into song.

“The payouts are part of a grand and unprecedented experiment that is motivated by an equally sweeping question: What if our entire approach to helping the world’s poorest people is fundamentally flawed?

“Today practically all aid is given as ‘in-kind’ donations — whether that’s food, an asset like a cow, job training or schoolbooks. And this means that, in effect, it’s the providers of aid — governments, donor organizations, even private individuals donating to a charity — who decide what poor people need most. But what if you just gave poor people cash with no strings attached? Let them decide how best to use it?

“GiveDirectly has actually been advocating for this kind of cash aid for the past decade. Founded by four grad students in economics who wanted to challenge traditional aid, the charity has already given $65 million to people across Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, provided by a mix of Silicon Valley foundations and ordinary citizens who contribute through GiveDirectly’s website. And

GiveDirectly has shown through rigorous, independent study that people don’t waste the money.

“Still, those cash grants were relatively modest one-time payouts. With this experiment, GiveDirectly wants to see what happens when you give extremely poor people a much longer runway — a guaranteed ‘basic income’ they can count on for years.

“Michael Faye, the chairman of GiveDirectly, says they’ve chosen to set the payment at $22 because in Kenya $22 per person per month is ‘the food poverty line — the amount of money it would take to afford a basic basket of food for yourself.’

“This hamlet near Lake Victoria — about 400 residents living on less than $2 a day in mud-brick huts with no running water — is just the beginning. [This] fall, GiveDirectly wants to extend the monthly payments to every adult in 200 similar villages across Kenya, then compare them to 100 ‘control’ villages that don’t get the cash. To do this they need $30 million, of which they’ve raised $25 million.

“Some of the world’s foremost researchers of anti-poverty strategies will be doing an independent study of the data that emerges — including Alan Krueger, professor of economics at Princeton University, and Abhijit Banerjee, a professor of economics at MIT and director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. …

” ‘Let them make the choices,’ says [Michael Faye, the chairman of GiveDirectly]. ‘Because the poor are pretty good at making them.’ ”

At NPR, here, there’s a lot more detail, plus interviews with a couple recipients.

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Photo: AP
Young ballerinas practice under the instruction of Kenyan ballet dancer Joel Kioko, 16, left, in a room at a school in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

The other day, someone clicked on all my ballet and dance posts without leaving a comment. I can tell from looking at my site stats.

I hope whoever it was is still checking as I have another great dance story today. It was reported by AP staff in Australia on December 26, 2016.

“Joel Kioko is arguably Kenya’s most promising young ballet dancer. Currently training in the United States, he has come home for Christmas — and is dancing a solo in a Nairobi production of The Nutcracker while he’s here. …

“Kioko grew up in Nairobi’s Kuwinda slum and took his first dance class five years ago in a public school classroom, with bare walls, no barre and no mirror, the desks and chairs pushed outside. …

“ ‘I don’t know what I could have done without ballet, without dancing,’ Kioko said. …

“He was discovered by a fellow dance student who at age 14 was teaching a class at his school and told her teacher, [Dance Centre Kenya’s artistic director, Cooper] Rust, about him.

“ ‘From the beginning, when he joined the ballet, there was nothing else he could talk about,’ said Kioko’s mother, Angela Kamene, who raised him and his sister in a one-bedroom shack shared with an aunt and a grandmother. …

“Now others are pursuing dance as a way out of poverty. … Michael Wamaya, a finalist for the 2017 Global Teacher Prize, teaches dance to around 100 kids a week in Nairobi’s Kibera and Mathare slums.

“At the end of the day, we’re not just training them to have dance for fun, we’re doing it in a serious level,” Wamaya said. …

“ ‘People say sometimes, why are you not teaching them, for instance, African dance or hip hop?’ he said. ‘Yes, it’s a Western thing coming in, but it’s dance, and dance is diverse, you know? To me, it’s not about ballet as a dance style, but it’s about the discipline that ballet has in itself as a dance technique.’

“As the only son in a family growing up without a father, Kioko laughed at the notion that some people might consider a man in tights, dancing classical ballet, to be unmanly. He was teased by some in his neighbourhood about the dancing, he said, but he never had to fight.

“ ‘Where I came from there is poverty, there is stealing, there is drugs,’ Kioko said. ‘You have to be a man to live in where we live. … It’s like a lion in the jungle, you have to show that you are the male there, you are the one who roars and everyone follows.’ ”

More here.

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An African writer’s gratitude to a generous book lover in his childhood city has inspired an online bookstore geared toward African authors.

Daniel A. Gross writes at the New Yorker, “Magunga Williams grew up in Kisumu, a Kenyan city that’s home to more than three hundred thousand people but to only two major bookstores. There, Williams told me recently, ‘people depend on books that they find in supermarkets.’ Most of these books come from the United States and Europe. ‘These supermarkets do not have a rich African collection,’ Williams said.

“But there was one place where he could always find a wider range of books. It was the personal collection of a local man, whose house became a neighborhood meeting place and an unofficial sort of public library. …

“Williams moved to Nairobi and began an undergraduate program in law, but he never forgot the way that a house full of books, in a city with too few, became an escape. …

“So Williams, while he was in school, started a literary blog, Magunga.com, and … he made it his mission to create a space like that library—not in a house but on the Internet. The result is a fledgling online pan-African bookshop: the Magunga Bookstore.

“In becoming a bookseller, Williams was, in part, following in the footsteps of his girlfriend, Abigail Arunga. A few years ago, Arunga, a Nairobi-based freelance writer in her late twenties, stopped by a few local bookstores and asked if they would stock ‘Akello,’ her self-published collection of poems.

“At one shop, she was told that Kenyans don’t read poetry. At another, an employee claimed that her ninety-three-page book was too short. ‘They told me that my book had to be at least a hundred pages,’ she said. So she decided to sell the book herself — at poetry readings, literary festivals, even family gatherings. …

“An epiphany came last winter, when Williams was reading an article in the Guardian and noticed that the newspaper operates its own online bookstore. He told Arunga that they were going to open a bookstore, too. …

“Williams earns his living by writing sponsored posts on his blog, which attracts around five thousand readers each day. He asked his Webmaster, David Mabiria, to add a new tab to the Web site, which would offer books for sale. … He and Arunga requested book donations from writer friends, who provided copies of their own work. They launched the feature with ten titles in stock, under a simple slogan: ‘Spreading the Word.’

“Word spread slowly. The Magunga Bookstore made its first sale in December, 2015, when Williams was out of town — he had to ask a friend to deliver the book. ‘He was telling me he was in traffic,’ Williams recalled. ‘And I was, like, “I don’t care. Just go get a boda-boda ride.“ ‘ (Boda-boda is East African slang for a motorcycle taxi.) He remembers telling the friend, “I’ll pay you even if it costs me double the price. Just to make sure the client is happy.” ‘ ”

More at the New Yorker. And while you’re clicking, take a look at the Magunga Bookstore site, here.

Photo: Facebook/Babishai Niwe Poetry
Abigail Arunga and Magunga Williams at the 2016 Babishai Poetry Festival, in Ntinda, Uganda.

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Photo: BBC
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Africa’s Sophie Ikenye visits a fish farm in Kenya.

The BBC recently called my attention to a surprising new trend in Africa: Young people, who used to flock to urban office jobs and spurn farming, are beginning to see the attractive side of a return to the land.

Sophie Ikenye writes, “Six years ago Emmanuel Koranteng, 33, gave up his job as an accountant in the US and bought a one-way ticket to Ghana. He now has a successful business growing pineapples in a village one-and-a-half hours away from the capital, Accra. He says that even when he was far away from the farm, it was always in his thoughts.

“Across the continent, Dimakatso Nono, 34, also left her job in finance … and moved from Johannesburg to manage her father’s 2,000 acre farm three hours away in Free State Province. She says she wanted to make an impact. …

” ‘At the beginning, we were not sure about what the animals were doing and where they were in the fields, so for me it was important to ensure that every single day, every activity that we do is recorded.’

“Life on the farm has not been easy. … Both young farmers have found it difficult to get funding for equipment. For this reason, Mr Koranteng has decided to stay small.

” ‘If you are small and you don’t have funding, don’t try to do anything big. It’s all about being able to manage and produce quality because if you produce quality, it sells itself,’ he says.

“But there is to be made money in farming. A World Bank report from 2013 estimates that Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 if they were able to access to more capital, electricity and better technology.

” ‘Agriculture has a bright future in Africa,’ says Harvard University technology expert Calestous Juma. And it also means making the finished product, rather than just growing crops and selling them. ‘The focus should be … from farm to fork, not just production,’ he says.”

Check out one farming entrepreneur’s approach here.

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As I was driving home today, I heard a radio commentator say that the cost of solar has gone way down. John has solar now and can actually sell some of the energy produced back to the utility.

Nevertheless, the typical solar infrastructure is beyond the reach of many low-income people.

In Kenya, however, solar energy is being produced without the intermediary of the panels you may be picturing.

Derek Markham writes at TreeHugger, “Solar energy promises to be one of the backbones of our clean energy future, and its most well-known application is probably solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, which can produce low-carbon electricity for homes and businesses alike. However, even as solar PV efficiencies rise, and costs drop, solar electricity is still out of reach for many people, as it requires a considerable up-front investment, as well as knowledgeable designers, manufacturers, and installers.

“In the developing world, small-scale solar, which can be used for lighting and charging mobile devices, is one of the solar technologies within reach of low-income residents, and while it can certainly fill some of the energy needs of people (such as a clean light source to replace kerosene, and to keep cell phones charged up), it’s only one piece of the energy puzzle.

“Another larger energy demand is for producing heat, whether it’s for cooking or water sterilization, which is often met by using electricity (at the risk of regular blackouts and high costs) or wood (which contributes to deforestation and indoor air pollution), but there is a viable and sustainable alternative solution in the form of solar thermal technology.

“Using the sun’s rays directly, without the need for expensive and complex components, is a perfect fit for quite a bit of the developing world’s energy needs, as well as being an appropriate technology even in First World countries. …

GoSol is demonstrating what is possible with several pilot projects, including a solar bakery and a peanut butter cooperative in Kenya, and is offering up plans for its solar concentrator at a very reasonable cost. …

“The GoSol Sol4 uses 4 square meters of mirrors to produce an estimated solar thermal output of 2 kW (said to be roughly equal to a standard gas stove) at a construction cost of between $350 and $500 USD (depending on whether recycled or new materials are used), and can pay for itself in the developing world within a year.” More here.

Simple and smart. Makes me think of Boy Scouts learning to start a fire with a magnifying glass that focuses the sun’s rays. GoSol sounds creative.

Photo: GoSol

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Not everyone can be an inventor, but inventors can be found everywhere.

“Richard Turere, 13, doesn’t like lions. In fact, he hates them. Yet this bright Maasai boy has devised an innovative solution that’s helping the survival of these magnificent beasts — by keeping them away from humans.

“Living on the edge of Nairobi National Park, in Kenya, Turere first became responsible for herding and safeguarding his family’s cattle when he was just nine. But often, his valuable livestock would be raided by the lions roaming the park’s sweet savannah grasses, leaving him to count the losses. …

“So, at the age of 11, Turere decided it was time to find a way of protecting his family’s cows, goats and sheep from falling prey to hungry lions …

” ‘One day, when I was walking around,’ he says, ‘I discovered that the lions were scared of the moving light.’

“Turere realized that lions were afraid of venturing near the farm’s stockade when someone was walking around with a flashlight. He put his young mind to work and a few weeks later he’d come up with an innovative, simple and low-cost system to scare the predators away.

“He fitted a series of flashing LED bulbs onto poles around the livestock enclosure, facing outward. The lights were wired to a box with switches and to an old car battery powered by a solar panel.

“They were designed to flicker on and off intermittently, thus tricking the lions into believing that someone was moving around carrying a flashlight.

“And it worked. Since Turere rigged up his ‘Lion Lights,’ his family has not lost any livestock to the wild beasts, to the great delight of his father and astonishment of his neighbors.

“What’s even more impressive is that Turere devised and installed the whole system by himself, without ever receiving any training in electronics or engineering. …

Paula Kahumbu, executive director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust …  helped him get a scholarship at Brookhouse International School, one of Kenya’s top educational institutions, where he started last April. …

” ‘One thing that’s unique about Richard is that if you give him a problem, he’ll keep working at it until he can fix it. [He] doesn’t give up; he doesn’t find things too difficult; he’s not afraid of being unable to do something and I think this is why he is such a good innovator — because he’s not worried that it might not work, he’s going to try and do it anyway.’ ”

More here. And you can catch Richard’s TED Talk here. (Yes, he got on TED Talk!)

Photo: CNN

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Never underestimate the wisdom of the pachyderm. Here’s one that would make an undetectable spy.

Jeffrey Gettleman writes at the NY Times, “Elephant experts in Kenya were excited recently by some rare good news: An elephant had crossed into Somalia — and survived.

“Somalia, one of the world’s most war-torn nations, used to be home to thousands of elephants, but they were wiped out during the 1980s and ’90s as the country descended into chaos.

“For the first time in decades, researchers said, there is now anecdotal evidence that a small elephant population still exists in Somalia, a finding based on the unusual migration of one big bull named Morgan who journeyed stealthily across the Kenya-Somalia border, most likely to look for a mate.

“Fitted with a GPS tracking collar, Morgan was found to have traveled more than 130 miles, demonstrating an uncanny sense of direction — and self-preservation. He moved mostly by night. During the day, he rested in thick bush.

“ ‘This is extreme behavior adapted to survive the worst known predator on Earth: man,’ said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, one of the scientists closely monitoring Morgan. ‘His behavior was a bit like an S.A.S. patrol: Hide by day, keep out of sight and, at night, travel fast,’ he added, referring to the British special forces. …

“He surmised that Morgan, who is in his mid-30s, had made a similar journey years ago and that a faint memory of the route was lodged somewhere deep in his elephant brain.” More here.

As you no doubt learned in childhood: Elephants never forget.

Photo: Save the Elephants, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Morgan, a male bull in his 30s, was fitted with a tracking collar in Kenya’s coastal Tana River delta around December.

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The Christian Science Monitor series People Making a Difference (“ordinary people taking action for extraordinary change”) has so many great leads, I have to restrain myself from using one every day. The Monitor staff don’t write all the stories but, like me, harvest from hither and yon.

This story, about “sack farming,” is from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which I wouldn’t have known about either but for the Monitor.

Caroline Wambui writes, “Central Kenya’s Nturukuma region is not kind to farmers – its erratic rainfall, desert vegetation, and drying riverbeds push most people into making a living through trade rather than agriculture.

“Jane Kairuthi Kathurima toiled for years as an animal herder in the semi-arid conditions of Laikipia County, but struggled to feed her family – until she discovered sack farming, which has transformed her life and those of her children.

“ ‘Being in an environment where food was scarce and lacking in nutrition, I had to find an alternative way to survive,’ said Kathurima. …

“Sack farming involves filling a series of bags with soil, manure, and pebbles for drainage, and growing plants on the top and in holes in the sides. The sacks allow people to grow food in places with limited access to arable land and water.

“Two years after setting up her sack farm, Kathurima now grows enough vegetables – including spinach, lettuce, beets, and arugula to feed her family and sell the surplus to the community. … Now she is supporting other food-insecure farmers by encouraging them to think differently.

“The group behind sack farming in Kenya is GROOTS (Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood), a global network of women-led groups which help women solve problems in their communities by changing the way they do things.

“Rahab Ngima Githaiga, vice chairman of one of the GROOTS member organizations, says sack farming has empowered women and changed lives by improving family nutrition and enabling children to go to school.”

More here.

Photo: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Caroline Wambui
Jane Kairuthi Kathurima cuts kale at her sack farm in central Kenya. She grows enough vegetables to feed her family, selling the surplus to the community. 

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I like this story about a couple of idealistic young men who have created fair-wage, environmentally sustainable textile jobs in the United States with the help of customers’ T-shirt collections. Their company, Project Repat, is “repatriating” some textile jobs lost overseas years ago.

From the website: “Project Repat story starts in Nairobi, Kenya, where Project Repat co-founder Ross Lohr was doing non-profit education work. After sitting in traffic for 2 hours, he discovered the cause of the jam: an overturned fruit and vegetable rickshaw pushed by a Kenyan man wearing a t-shirt that said ‘I Danced My Ass Off at Josh’s Bar Mitzvah.’

“Amazed by all the incredible t-shirts that get sold off and sent overseas by non-profit and for-profit companies in America, [Nathan Rothstein and I] began working with Kenyan artisans to design new products out of castaway t-shirts, including bags, scarves, and re-fabricated t-shirts. Those products were ‘repatriated’ (or returned to the country of origin) back to the United States and sold to raise money for non-profits working in East Africa.

“When trying to sell our upcycled products at markets in Boston, we quickly discovered the difference between a ‘good idea’ and a real business: while potential customers liked the idea of a repatriated upcycled t-shirt bag, they didn’t like it enough to actually buy it. What customers did ask for, time and time again, was an affordable t-shirt quilt.

“We had heard enough: instead of shipping goods all around the country, why not create fair wage jobs in the United States and create a product that has a lot of meaning for customers? As they say, the rest is history. Rather than ‘repatriating’ t-shirts back to the United States, Project Repat creates a high quality, affordable t-shirt quilt with minimal carbon impact.”

The factories are located in cities once-renowned for textiles: Fall River, Massachusetts (where “Precision Sportswear has been able to succeed by specializing in custom work and smaller production runs for made-in-USA. companies”), and Morgantown, North Carolina (where “each worker at Opportunity Threads is part of a collaborative working model, [and] each employee adds input to the production process and has the opportunity to earn an ownership stake in the company”).

I was not able to find on the website what happened to the artisans in Africa when the company’s focus changed. Ping @lunastellablog1 if you know.

On this Repat page, you tell the company what size quilt to make with your T-shirts, what size panels, and what color PolarTec backing you want.

Photo: Project Repat

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Fred Pearce of Yale Environment 360 (a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies) had a post on some positive change in Kenya recently. It came to me by way of the Christian Science Monitor Change Agent e-mail.

“In Kenya, local farmers are replacing state officials and forest wardens …

“Kenya’s five main ‘water towers’ — the Aberdare Mountains, the Mau forest complex, Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon, and the Cherangani Hills — cover just 2 percent of the country. But their elevation means that they intercept clouds blowing off the Indian Ocean, capturing most of the country’s rains. These places are the sources of all but one of Kenya’s major rivers. …

“Emilio Mugo, the acting director of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) … says an important factor in [the process of reclamation] was the popularizing of the phrase ‘water towers.’ It unlocked a recognition about the nation’s precarious ecosystems and water supplies, and their link to forests.

“ ‘The new terminology galvanized public attention,’ he says. Calls to revive the towers became a national priority, culminating in the creation in 2012 of the Kenya Water Towers Agency to coordinate government activity.

“We are now looking at the towers as national assets,” says Francis Nkako, the CEO of the new agency. In the past five years, 81 square miles of the Mau forest system have been repossessed from illegal settlers for ecological rehabilitation …

“Control of the forests is being systematically given to democratically elected community forest associations (CFAs) that manage the forests under agreements with the KFS. …

“Under the agreements, CFAs are tasked with ensuring sustainable use of the forests, preventing illegal activity in them, managing and raising fees for grazing of livestock and firewood cutting in the forests, and starting new economic activities based on forest resources. No members of the community are allowed to live in the protected forests, but they can use them.” More here.

Photo: Fred Pearce
Sarah Karungari shows beehives set up by the community forest association (CFA) in Kimunye village in Kenya. Management of mountain forests is being systematically given over to democratically elected CFAs.

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