February 12, 2010

A-MAIZ-ING Opportunities in Embu, Kenya

Posted in Advance Trip tagged , , , at 12:38 pm by kampala2capetown

The road show crew has finished a wonderful week in Embu, an agricultural hub located two hours north of Nairobi, close to the base of Mt. Kenya. A full day was spent with the Kenera Springs Youth Group, a determined bunch of young Kenyan adults thirsty to find a program which could boost employment and productivity in their community.  When we discussed the road show program and the technologies we hope to spread, they became especially excited by the idea of turning maize cobs into usable cooking charcoal. In that appropriate technology they saw an immediate opportunity, telling and then showing the crew how maize cobs, after dried and shelled, are often discarded.

Driving across Embu we saw why the group was so excited, acres and acres of maize farms line the road side, looking almost golden. Substituting maize cob charcoal for wood charcoal offers a business opportunity that would also slow deforestation, which is becoming a major problem in the region. Hundreds of thousands of trees are cut down annually in East Africa so that families can use the charcoal for their cooking needs. Wood charcoal is simply more accessible and affordable when compared to gas or electric , and the production of wood charcoal has been extremely difficult to regulate. The Kenera youth will be investigating how they might be able to start up a maize cob production system in the near future.

Another area of need that the Kenera Youth showed the road show planning committee was water and irrigation. Perhaps thanks to climate change, the rains in the Embu region have become erratic and unpredictable in the past decade. The month of January 2010 was extremely dry, and as the Kenera Youth group toured us around the farms in their community, the amount of plants that were drying out just as they were about to reach harvesting was disturbing and frightening.  A lot of enthusiasm was shown for the idea of rain water harvesting and slow drip irrigation.

We finished our extraordinary day with Kenera Youth by visiting their soon-to-be completed youth center being built thanks to a government grant. The group asked to be involved closely in the upcoming Road Show so that they might be able to learn more about new technologies that could be disseminated in their community. If they could target specific technologies, be trained in their maintenance and installation, then the center could become a warehouse of knowledge and technology innovation. In the meantime, for our upcoming World Cup event, the group pointed us in the right direction.

The Kirinyanga Technical Institute is the major vocational school in the Embu region and offers a perfect site for a Tech Road Show event. We met with three enthusiastic lecturers who toured us around the campus and described the technical education courses in masonry, water installation, welding, and fabrication as a well as business diplomas and courses in computing and information technologies. They saw the Tech Road Show as an incredible opportunity to bring attention to the importance of technical education, innovation and entrepreneurship.

The 475 student school is growing rapidly, and their 400 acres of land provides more than enough space for a community viewing venue for the World Cup to be set-up. The faculty said their students would be ready to jump on the chance to showcase their institute during the World Cup and they expressed special interested in agricultural technologies, echoing the Kenera Youth’s  need for increased innovation in that sector.

We enjoyed our time in Kenya, and can only hope that we can create as many smiles in our next stop in Arusha, Tanzania!

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