Supporting Local Entrepreneurship in Northern Kenya

“The current food situation in Ileret is challenging, especially for the most marginalized members of the community”, explains Acacia Leakey, the Technical Initiatives Manager for the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI).

Aerial view of the TBI Ileret research station (TBI)

The village of Ileret is situated in the north of Kenya, near the shores of Lake Turkana. While Ileret is known for being the cradle of humankind, living conditions are extremely harsh today with an average precipitation of only 300 mm/year and available water sources being heavily mineralized and not safe for consumption. The local community struggles to access clean water for both human consumption as well as agriculture.

“Expectant or lactating mothers and children are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition. Climate change is exacerbating this issue, contributing to flooding and droughts which decimate livelihoods and increase food insecurity”, warns Leakey. Acacia Leakey works for the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) in Ileret, where she coordinates the technical activities of the Institute. TBI is an international, multidisciplinary organization, supporting scientific research with a permanent research infrastructure close to Ileret. Its mission is to take care of the national and world heritage found in the Lake region, which is of immense prehistoric significance. TBI promotes human evolutionary sciences through education and outreach activities and engages with local communities in the Lake basin to empower them on issues regarding education, health, natural heritage awareness and environmental preservation.

TBI is already enjoying community goodwill in this remote and challenging region. Building on that, a partnership with Water and Energy for Food (WE4F)’s East Africa Regional Innovation Hub (East Africa RIH) was established to improve the access to water and energy in this arid part of the country, and to promote local entrepreneurship of hydroponic vegetable farmers.

Hydroponic farming in TBI research station in Illeret (TBI)

The partnership includes the set-up of a solar powered reverse osmosis (RO) and hydroponics system. Both TBI and WE4F  seek to gain experience on the feasibility, efficacy and economic viability of this innovative technology for the purification of water, especially in an arid region that is extremely resource poor. At the same time, the organizations assess the role of hydroponics to produce nutritious food and promote the technology among young local entrepreneurs. This water efficient way of farming is expected to be well suited for the application in the dry region of Ileret.

“The WE4F project enables TBI to expand work we’ve already conducted on adapting hydroponic agriculture to the local conditions, this expansion is facilitated by investments in novel water purification technologies. These solutions could provide a mechanism to address challenges in food security and livelihoods sustainably” says Acacia Leakey.

The gained experience with hydroponics and RO can be extended to other regions throughout Kenya and East Africa with similar arid and semi-arid conditions, promising a great impact on food security.

The long-term sustainability and suitable management of local water distribution will be ensured by a community led entity. The RO treated water will be used for consumption by the local community members, ensuring water safe for consumption, as well as for the production of fresh fruits and vegetables for consumption and sale. The project will train women and youth in the installation and operation of hydroponic farms and provide them with resources to replicate hydroponic agriculture in the region, contributing to women empowerment.

This project further supports young entrepreneurs, enabling enables them to also play a major role in supporting the community by producing nutritious food:

“The systems TBI will develop, demonstrate and deploy will be targeted towards members of the community who are enterprising and able to engage with novel ideas and technologies. This will appeal to youth who have a natural affinity to novel ideas, connectivity and information technology. The project will address key issues relating to households and nutrition, and as such will appeal to women who are typically responsible for this at the household level.”

Living conditions in the remote community of Ileret are extremely severe due to its remote location and poor access to basic services. Extreme weather events, worsened by climate change, such as flooding or droughts aggravate the situation further. The partnership between TBI and WE4F will contribute to the region by supporting women and youth, create access to clean water, and advance food security with innovative solutions.

Hydroponic farming at TBI research station in Turkwell at the other side of lake Turkana (TBI)