More than half our country’s population makes a living through farming. Strengthening agriculture – particularly for smallholder farmers – is therefore a sure path to development. This is essential in tackling the worsening impacts of climate change, such as drought and floods.
These threats are a major barrier to President William Ruto’s target of doubling agricultural productivity by 2027. Clean energy has a vital role to play in transforming agriculture. Solar powered water pumps can boost yields, while solar driers and cold storage will extend the life of our produce.
But such innovations are not reaching our villages in the numbers required. This is a missed opportunity. In the right hands, such income-boosting innovations are a spark for development and resilience. They raise farmers’ incomes – driving local economies forward – but also create the infrastructure for improved lighting, powering appliances and devices and other advances in daily life.
But smart farmers know that only careful planning and close attention can produce a good harvest. Equally, when it comes to growing the productive uses of energy, we need to sow the seeds of progress with care.
What measures should we take?
This summer, the Power Up campaign is lobbying for action to widen energy access in Kenya, as a route to adaptation and economic development.
Organisations from across the country have come together to back nine policy recommendations, many geared towards boosting productive uses of energy.
Our plans should centre on meeting the needs of farming communities. This includes unlocking a strong energy supply plan to run power-thirsty equipment. The growth of solar ‘minigrids’, systems that provide energy to a group of customers, is one way of enabling this.
Another approach is making such systems affordable to poor farmers. This can be done through credit arrangements and ‘pay-as-you-go’ packages developed specifically for these customers.
Other recommendations include subsidies and incentives for off-grid solutions, new public-private partnerships to mobilise resources, and the launch of a climate adaptation funding mechanism enhancing energy access in Arid and Semi-Arid Land regions.
Sustainable Energy Access Forum Kenya (SEAF-K) is supporting Power Up, and in our work we have seen the potential for action to change rural livelihoods – but also that the availability of new products alone will not get the job done.
For example, in Bomet County, our work supplying farmers with water pumps included the training to make the most of this technology. One tomato farmer from Cheboriot village shared how this had helped him ditch his diesel generator, and avoid the high fuel costs that were eating into his profits.
With decisive action, this story could soon be repeated in villages up and down the country. When the Africa Climate Summit and Africa Climate Week come to Nairobi next month, I urge Kenya’s leaders to recognise the importance of powering up the productive use of energy in rural communities.
Mr Omenyi is the co-ordinator of Sustainable Energy Access Forum-Kenya. [email protected]