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State agency eyes geothermal heat to fire up farming, manufacturing

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Ms Esther Njuguna, an engineer at GDC inside a geothermal-heated greenhouse at its Direct Use Pilot project at Menengai base in Nakuru on October 26, 2021. PHOTO | FRANCIS MUREITHI | NMG

Summary

  • Milk pasteurisation is just one of the many industrial processes that GDC has launched at the Menengai geothermal field.
  • Maize farmers too have a reason to smile as they are accessing the ultra-modern dryer to dry their maize after shelling.
  • GDC wants to tap into underutilised geothermal heat at Menengai and is wooing investors who want to use geothermal steam to power their investments.

"I love cows. I get my pension from the sale of milk. I'm so passionate about dairy farming. I'm proud to be involved in the production of milk. It has not been a walk in the park, but on the brighter side of this venture, it has also been very rewarding. However, now I feel I cannot go any extra mile in the business," lamented James Rugut.

Mr Rugut, based in Sobea village, Rongai sub-county in Nakuru is one of the dairy farmers complaining that delayed payment for their milk is stifling their operations.

Milk in agricultural rich Rongai is bought by cooperatives that in turn sell it to outlets and processors in Nakuru, Nairobi and Kiambu counties.

"We are not happy with the price at which they purchase our milk. They purchase at between Sh38 and Sh42 per litre which is simply too little considering that we invest heavily as we have no other source of income. The price of animal feeds has skyrocketed. This is exacerbated by the failure to pay us in time. Some processors that buy through cooperatives often reject our milk and tell us that it is spoilt," Mr Rugut said.

Like Mr Rugut, many other dairy farmers say they are considering abandoning the venture if the trend does not change.

"It is no longer economically viable to engage in dairy farming. Even though I have an emotional attachment to the cows, I see no point in sticking to the business because I am incurring losses yet I'm forced to maintain the animals and feed," said another farmer who requested anonymity.

Big mess

Mr Simeon Kimetto is also not happy with a processor he has been delivering milk to for the last five years and complains of delayed payment.

"I'm being forced to sell my four cows to clear school fees for my son at the university as the processor has not paid for my deliveries. It is not only the farmers who have suffered losses but cooperatives as well. It is a big mess," he said.

However, about 500 farmers supplying milk to Rongai Dairy Commercialisation Co-operative Society Limited have a reason to smile and keep rearing their animals as a State agency sets the ground for investors to use geothermal heat for farming and manufacturing.

Geothermal Development Company (GDC) is using geothermal steam to pasteurise milk at its Menengai base in Nakuru and has entered into a contract with Rongai Dairy Commercialisation Co-operative Society where it buys about 1,200 litres of milk per month.

The milk is sold to workers at the Menengai GDC and those working in the Baringo- Silali geothermal project in Baringo and Suswa fields.

Milk pasteurisation is just one of the many industrial processes that GDC has launched at the Menengai geothermal field that will also see thousands of farming communities in Rongai, Bahati, Kiamunyi, and Mang'u benefit.

GDC has established several Direct Use Demonstration pilots and includes a semi-commercial grain dryer, a milk pasteuriser, a laundry unit, fish farming ponds and geothermal-heated greenhouses.

Mr Dennis Sang the secretary of the Rongai Dairy Commercialisation Co-operative Society, said since they started selling the milk to GDC, issues of late payments and poor prices are a thing of the past.

"With a pasteurising unit at GDC Menengai, our prayers have been answered as we have a ready market where we sell our milk directly. Since we started selling the milk to GDC early this year our farmers have avoided losing money to middlemen. GDC buys our milk at a better price of Sh46 and pays promptly without any delay," he said.

He added: "Some farmers who had cut ties with our society due to delayed payments and poor prices have come back after we signed the contract with GDC."

Game-changer

Maize farmers too have a reason to smile as they are accessing the ultra-modern dryer to dry their maize after shelling.

"My maize produce was rejected by an agro-processing factory due to poor quality caused by the high level of humidity owing to poor post-harvest handling stage. However, this season I have sold all the maize after it was dried at GDC dryer," said Mr Peter Kimotho, a farmer at Kabarak.

Mr Japheth Towett, an engineer at Menengai said the geothermal grain dryer, which was installed in 2019 has a total storage capacity of about 30 tonnes of grains and reduces moisture content from as high as 20 per cent to 13 per cent.

"It takes about four hours to dry the grain. The greatest advantage is that we reduce on energy used to dry the grains by 60 percent. That is the essence of this drying unit. The dryer uses renewable energy and does not emit harmful gases that pollute the environment contributing to global warming," said Mr Towett.

He added: "The dryer is a game-changer as it helps to curb post-harvest losses which have seen many farmers record poor profit margins from their farming ventures."

Mr Towett said the dryer, manufactured in Sweden, had come in handy to grain handlers and farmers around Menengai who had been struggling with the problem of aflatoxin and post-harvest losses.

"I no longer have worries of my maize developing aflatoxin as I use the GDC dryer which is efficient. I can now store my maize for longer periods and sell it when the prices are good. I encourage other farmers around Menengai to use the facility if they want to maintain high quality," said Mr George Kibara, a maize farmer.

Ms Esther Njuguna, an engineer at Direct Use Demonstration pilot at Menengai, said GDC aims at highlighting other uses of geothermal energy apart from power generation.

"With Direct Use Demonstration pilot we want to establish what we can do with the gases, hot water, heat and minerals that come with geothermal energy," explained Ms Njuguna.

She said the buying of milk by GDC has improved the hygiene of the milk delivered by the farmers as they ensure it is not adulterated as it will be rejected.

"The cooperative supplying us milk is now doing thorough tests before delivering the milk and this has improved the quality of milk and many farmers are now aware that the milk they sell to their co-operative undergo quality assurance tests and therefore they will take care of to avoid rejection," explained Ms Njuguna.

The pasteurisation at Menengai comes at a time when the multibillion-shilling sector has attracted many new processors who are setting their base in Nakuru which is one of the largest milk producers in the country estimated to be worth more than Sh10billion.

New gospel

"This is a huge opportunity for investors and communities around Menengai to take advantage of geothermal steam to grow their investment in manufacturing and farming. That is the gospel we are preaching here. With the Big Four Agenda gathering steam, GDC will significantly contribute to the achievement of this ambitious flagship project by the government," added Ms Njuguna.

GDC wants to tap into underutilised geothermal heat at Menengai and is wooing investors who want to use geothermal steam to power their investments to partner with and Nakuru County government to set up a geothermal resource park.

"The direction in which GDC is heading is to commercialise activities at direct use like a geothermal–heated greenhouse, aquaculture, grain drying and milk pasteurisation. We want investors to come and set their bases at Menengai which has an abundance of geothermal energy," explained Ms Njuguna.

The diversification of geothermal resources and the entry of new investors to use geothermal heat for farming and manufacturing will usher in new investment opportunities and spur economic growth in Nakuru town which is earmarked to become a city soon.

GDC has signed a memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the county government to establish a geothermal heat park that will host different companies in the manufacturing, farming and hospitality sectors and this will create wealth and job opportunities for the locals.

"GDC has already signed a collaboration framework agreement with Nakuru county government and will supply geothermal energy-steam and electricity to the park and this will attract more investors," said Ms Njuguna.

Mr Gabriel Wetangula, manager of safety, health and environment at GDC said the firm has put stringent environmental and social management plans to address any potential impact that arise from the project.

Cost-cutting

"We have put monitoring programmes for different issues and one of the issues we have addressed is afforestation. We have put measures to conserve the environment by planting trees. Previously the area was hit by illegal grazing and charcoal burning but we have reversed the trend and the area is regaining its lost glory as we have supplied the community with tree seedlings for their domestic use. We have also put measures to monitor the quality of air due to the gases emitted from the wells by installing an automatic weather station," said Mr Wetangula.

GDC chief executive officer Jared Othieno said that geothermal at Menengai is abundant and will accelerate energy access, cut costs and improve lifestyles.

"For the heat park, the most important component is the geothermal heat mined from steam. We have an abundance of heat. The heat is readily available. It's clean and supports various industrial processes," said the GDC boss.

Energy sector specialists say if fully exploited, direct use projects will attract investors and boost GDC's revenue beyond the current annual turnover of Sh3.3billion from steam sales to KenGen.

The World Bank is supporting GDC to develop a comprehensive 20-year business plan and financial model that will ensure the state agency is taking full advantage of revenue-generating opportunities arising from the growing demand for geothermal energy in the country.

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