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Dec 20, 2017

Rural communities access energy for income generating ventures

Electricity is central to the development agenda in Kenya. Without electricity it is unlikely that development projects and public investments, such as schools and community centres, can achieve their intended goals. The expansion of technology initiatives in rural areas, such as supplying laptops to students, will not be sustainable without reliable connections to electricity.  Village Industrial Power (VIP) is enabling rural households to access power by providing a mobile system that produces energy for agricultural processing.

Carl Bielenberg, founder of Village Industrial Power (VIP) is not new to inventing agricultural technology. He has been doing so since 1976 when he first settled in Cameroon. In 1978, Carl founded The Better World Workshop (BWW) in Baffousam, Cameroon that designed and produced what the customers needed from cocoa depodders to bread pans.

He has been involved in developing energy and agricultural technologies for Africa and the United States. From the Bielenberg Ram Press to the introduction of the Treadle Pump, invented by Gunnar Barnes in Bangladesh and adopted by Carl for the Africa market.

The one constant that he always met was that people lacked the energy source needed to displace human muscle power. Village Industrial Power’s 10kW unit is the product of the experience he had gathered over the years. It addresses the need for energy and agricultural processing by using the resources available to farmers.

Village Industrial Power is an early venture backed social enterprise, commercializing a productive power solution for agro- processors in developing countries. Their mission is to empower rural agribusiness with clean, reliable energy solutions, providing farmers with the tools they need for income generation and opportunity. In 2016 through to 2017, VIP launched operations in Kenya and India.

“We are introducing a green transition for communities who have been reliant on diesel, unreliable grid or manual processes to do jobs like milling and cooling. Our combined heat and power plant transforms waste from agriculture, such as maize cobs, bagasse or coffee parchment into three phase power and process heat.” Carl says.  

VIP has established a partnership with Musoni, a Kenyan lending institution, who will provide asset financing to pilot a lease for a facility. They have developed crop specific processing systems for addressing post-harvest losses in maize, mango and dairy. These systems serve as a business in a box for farmer’s groups, entrepreneurs who offer farmers services and SME’s who benefit from decentralized processing hubs that create jobs in rural communities. They plan to disrupt the current path of development by making rural enterprises profitable.

Currently, the leading product is the fruit and vegetable drying system. Carl states, “Customers who have been drying mango, sweet potato, cassava, tomatoes, and other crops using solar dryers report losses (up to 64%) from unpredictable weather and variable quality which doesn’t allow them to build a sustainable business. Our cabinet dryer, powered by the VIP biomass generator, removes the risk from the drying process and reduces drying time from two days to six hours (in the case of mangoes). This is important because farmers struggle with post-harvest losses in crops like mango where all of the fruit is ready at once and market prices drop to KSh.5 to KSh.8 per mango. Once dried, these same mangoes are sold for the equivalent of KSh.35 to KSh.40 per mango.”

In addition to drying, the customers use the power generated from the crop waste on their farms for powering irrigation pumps, posho mills, animal feed mixers and charging batteries for other household uses.

VIP is mitigating climate change by reducing the diesel power consumed in farming communities and replacing it with biomass power, derived from crop waste that is often otherwise pile burned releasing more emissions. When crop waste is burned inside the VIP furnace there is a 60% energy conversion rate, meaning that we capture much more of that energy and have complete combustion inside the chamber. The result is that no smoke is emitted from the chimney of a VIP when it is in operation. Finally, by enabling crop processing on or near farms where crops are produced, the transport, and associated fuel emissions, within the supply chain are reduced.

Looking ahead, VIP is looking to expand partnerships with county governments and NGO’s who have initiatives around enabling value addition. They are currently in the process of developing a partnership with Heifer international to launch a micro dairy solution which will enable dairy cooperatives to engage in small scale milk processing. The company is looking into expanding within East Africa in 2018.

 

By Michelle Mung’ata

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