Kenyan farmers have been travelling to the Nakuru National Agricultural Show every year since 1920. These days you need to arrive early if you want to avoid the lengthy queues to purchase an entry ticket. You can tell when the show has officially opened from the throngs of people, rickety matatus and crowds of motorcycles that begin to gather at the northern edge of the town, outside the entrance to the showgrounds.
On the Friday you will see hundreds of school children from both primary and secondary schools who have travelled from all over Nakuru County to walk amongst the brightly coloured stalls and to watch the performances taking place in the stadium.
The show is organised by the Agricultural Society of Kenya. Traditionally, its main focus has been to demonstrate the latest farming techniques, technology, crop varieties, livestock and agricultural products. Various agricultural organisations, both government run and private corporations, spend several months before the event to setting up stalls with crops grown to various stages, all competing to be named ‘Best Stall’ in a huge variety of different categories.
Recently, the show has moved away from a purely agricultural focus, starting to provide a platform for a whole range of different products and services. These seem to range from selling the latest affordable Chinese motorcycles through encouraging future students to enrol at the local Egerton University to the dangers that face the Kenya Wildlife Service as they attempt to protect threatened wildlife from poachers. Even the work that the Kenyan Prison Service does to teach inmates craft and agricultural skills to rehabilitate and re-enter society is featured.
The energy sector has an increasingly large presence is the show. Organisations represented withing the square mile of showground range from the giant Kenya Pipeline Company (responsible for the storage, transport and delivery of petroleum products to Kenyan consumers) to much smaller outfits positioned to promote and provide ordinary Kenyan citizens renewable energy solutions.
Energy plays a large, although often overlooked, role in agriculture and food security. For many farmers in Kenya, especially smallholder farmers, electricity and fuels for crop processing or farm operations are both costly and limited. Educating and providing farmers with alternative energy access is important for continued agricultural growth.
Cooking practices and dietary choices are also influenced by energy access. This is because poor access to energy leads to reallocation of a family’s resources, both money and time, to procuring fuel instead of food.
Sunny Money, a social enterprise set up by the NGO Solar-Aid, have reported that 92% of rural households rely on kerosene for lighting which takes up a quarter of the average family’s monthly income. This probably underpins the increasing popularity of small solar powered gadget. Walking around the town of Nakuru, you will see a variety of advertisements painted onto the sides of buildings or on banners pinned to shop balconies proclaiming solar power as a means for cheap. The most common units appear to be miniature solar panels designed for charging mobile phones or small lights that can collect and store sunlight during the day and then be switched on in the evening.
As solar technology improves, some of the more established companies operating in this sector, such as Botto-Solar, have begun producing and selling larger appliances such as water heaters and stoves. Whilst the price is coming down, they are still out of reach to most of the poorest sectors of the population – who, more often than not, will use firewood or coal burners for most of their cooking requirements.
Practical demonstrations of biogas were also in evidence at the showgorund. In Kenya, the majority of educational institutions rely heavily on firewood as their main energy source for cooking. This reliance comes with a steep environmental and financial cost. IT POWER Eastern Africa has implemented a project in two Nakuru boarding schools replacing firewood with biogas. I each case, gas was generated from cow dung collected from the schools’ livestock farms.
The project had two main objectives; firstly to prove that biogas is a good substitute for firewood. The second was to develop and distribute technical manuals for biogas technology, for both end users and biogas technicians.
Biogas is not a new technology in Kenya, it was first introduced in the 1950s. In fact, there are many biogas plants installed but, due to mismanagement, many are no longer operational. The technical manuals were designed to standardise the technology and to improve the current biogas infrastructure.
This particular project ended five years ago, in 2010, with mixed success. The biogas worked very well as an alternative to firewood but careful and accurate planning was required to before building commences. Despite the challenges, biogas was heavily promoted by a number of organisations providing demonstrations at the Agricultural Show.
Egerton University and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute have partnered with Bioforsk in Norway to set up Daraja Kenya, an NGO that assists communities in working together to implement several biogas projects around Nakuru.
Hopefully, as more organisations promote this technology, institutions can begin to move away from firewood and reduce both the financial and environmental impact. As ever, knowledge – and its effective transference – is key to promoting positive change. Events like the Nakuru National Agricultural Show are key to assisting this process.
Max Marcheselli has experience working in the field in both Tanzania and Uganda to build and collect content for several Elimsis courses as well as providing on the ground technical support and assistance. Max is a graduate of Queen Mary, University of London and is currently based in East London.