In the far northwest corner of Kenya, you will find Turkana County, one of the poorest counties struggling to provide adequate food for both humans and animals. Located in equatorial east Africa, this region has one of the lowest rainfalls of the continent but is endowed with ample solar energy.
In 2017, a dream became reality when Bright Hope International, a United States based Christian charity, started a farm – known as the Natoot Farm – to improve the region’s agriculture with the goal of creating a year-round sustainable source of produce.
The Natoot Farm sits on community-owned land in Lodwar, Turkana Central. The land, divided into 11 blocks, serves more than 350 households and employs more than 100 local farmers. A soil survey showed great potential in the cultivation of a wide array of crops across the seasons with the introduction of a comprehensive irrigation system.
In 2020, Bright Hope International approached IEEE Smart Village (ISV) for technical and financial support. Site inspections indicated that water was readily available from an aquifer right under the farm. What was needed was power and equipment to pump the water during the dry season. By early 2022, a plan was laid out with ISV funding made possible by donations from IEEE Fellow and ISV volunteer leader John Nelson and the Bright Hope International program of Hope Evangelical Free Church, Springfield, IL. Using its three-tiered approach of energy + education + enterprise development, ISV supported the technical solution provisioning irrigation, onsite farmer education and enterprise mentorship.
The technical component involved the expansion of a modest 1.5 KWp existing PV solar power system to a much more powerful 12.5kWp islanded utility. The enhanced PV array drives a 3-phase 7.5kW (10hp) submersible multistage centrifugal pump of >50% efficiency at a duty point of 27 – 30 cubic meters of water per day. The pump is submerged below the local water table receiving power via an insulated submersible electric cable installed in the bore hole with a drop pipe to connect to the pump. A cement enclosure was constructed to house the pump positioned on a waterproof underlay of fibrous-reinforced building paper and 500-gauge polythene sheeting. The pump supplies a series of external 10 cubic meter commercial UPVC tanks set on an elevated steel platform storing 40,000 liters of fresh water. The tanks gravity-feed an extensive drip irrigation system as well as provide water for post-harvest produce washing and adjacent domestic usage.
The solar PV powered pump control system is located above ground featuring an adjustable operating frequency, and a monitor to observe open circuit voltage and amperage, input power and pump speed. New LED street lamps provide lighting at the installation which extends the produce-processing working hours during harvest season and provides a level of security at night.
In alignment with the three pillars of ISV project support, the program includes significant educational programs for the farmers. Introducing appropriate farming methods and small-farm operations, proper use and maintenance of the newly installed PV and pumping systems, and basic reading, writing and financial literacy skills.
Farmers learn about the proper use and maintenance of the newly installed PV and pumping systems.
Onsite training is tailored to an adult agrarian community with no formal education. Three experienced teachers were contracted to educate the farmers with two-hour classes several times per week. Facilitated by a series of 10-minute training videos in the local dialect showing best practices for maintenance of the water and electrical systems.
The ready access to irrigation is producing harvests which not only meets the basic food needs of the community, but a bountiful excess allowing commercial sales. As a result, the farmers have become ‘micro-entrepreneurs,’ selling produce at local and district markets generating much needed revenue.
ISV volunteer, Mercy Chelangat Koech, walks the fields with two of the farmers.
The third pillar of the ISV program, enterprise development, is now well underway. With multi-season harvests coming in, local businesspeople are engaged to mentor the farmers in small-scale commercial operation. Working with experienced businesspeople is exciting for the local farmers who never before had these opportunities. Their education continues as they expand their business skills. Learning how to sell their produce at cash-market rates to new customers was a challenge. Mentoring is the enabling factor.
The outcomes resulting from the Natoot Farm Upscale project are inspiring. Together these following factors have made the Natoot Farm a financially self-sustaining project:
- Increased Solar power system capacity from 1.5 KWp to 12.5 KWp
- Increased water storage capacity from 20,000 liters to 45,000 liters
- Reduced crop losses due to water shortage by 15%
- Expanded size of the Farm by 10 acres
Introducing multi-season harvests throughout the year, IEEE Smart Village’s investment in the wellbeing of the farmers in Turkana, Kenya is transformative. The IEEE Foundation is grateful to the generous donations which made this project possible. Our sincere thanks to IEEE Fellow and ISV volunteer leader John Nelson and the Bright Hope International program of Hope Evangelical Free Church, Springfield, IL.