“Plug-n-Play” Solutions for Turkana’s Nomads

Lillian Beauttah

Lillian Beauttah is one of the young entrepreneurs in agriculture who made it to the final of Youth Agripreneurs Project (YAP) competition organized by GFAR, CGIAR and YPARD. She works for “Afrika Jilishe”, a social enterprise that aims to increase resilience against climate change for nomadic pastoralists. She talked to social media reporter Ratih Nawangwulan  about the competition, the project, and her views on involving youth and women in creating better livelihoods in Kenya.

Q: What drives you to try to make these changes?

Lillian: The people of Turkana, Kenya, are unfortunately the most marginalized group mainly due to the fact that their living environment is not ideal.  They live in arid and semi-arid areas and their main socio-economic activity is under siege by changing times and poor climatic extremes. This condition has not changed for the past 17 years. In Africa mainly, we are still at the mercy of foreign assistance.

Q: How will  your project help address the situation?

Lillian: Simple. Turn these ‘unfavorable’ conditions into advantages. “Afrika Jilishe” is designing a self-sustaining greenhouse that is targeted specifically at these areas. How? Well, what is unique about these parts of Kenya is we have ample sunlight, extreme heat and limited knowledge about farming practices. These can all be viewed negatively, but what happens when you flip them on their head? Ample sunlight becomes enough energy to run the greenhouse. Extreme heat means temperatures high enough to drive the cyclic process that is needed to supply evapo-transpirative water from the plants themselves that will be collected, cooled and condensed by our automated system and turned back into water that is used for plant sustenance.

Now, in the case of limited agricultural skills, this becomes interesting. In the product design world, the best-kept secret is that for any product to succeed, the buyer has to feel that he or she is doing the least amount of work possible. Think of our greenhouses as a plug-and-play option for those people without these skills.

Q: That is impressive! And what are your challenges in implementing the project?

Lillian : Introducing a new product into a market is always a challenge. The additional bit here is that this project is a novel technology. Hence the challenge is finding people with not only the skill set but also the vision needed to address the needs at the bottom of the pyramid. Also, sourcing funding will always be a challenge.

Q: What  impacts do you expect from these high-technology greenhouses?

Lillian: We hope in three years this technology will be easily accessible to 30,000 people within these normadic areas. Through this, we want to turn the communities into dynamic and economically empowered ones. The greenhouses will be purchased by the community on a small scale loan. They will manage the harvested product for both subsistence needs and commercial distribution.

On a larger scale or we can call it ‘humanitarian’ scale, we want to shed a different light on the African story. One of innovation and ingenuity but primarily to reaffirm a dignity of the people once obscured by hunger and dependency.

Q:  Kenya is not the only place affected by drought: can this approach be replicated in any other areas?

Lillian: Not only can this be replicated, it needs to be replicated, not only in Kenya or Africa but globally. We will be starting our beta tests with secondary schools within these areas due to the availability of land and the possibility of involving a wide range of people from the community. We will begin with the Magadi region, before moving onto the northern Turkana region.

Q: How do you see women and youth getting involved in this project?

Lillian: Women will play a key role in this project because they will be the ‘on-ground’ managers of the greenhouses. Many times, women  are only given domestic chores, but studies show that when the economic state of the family is put in women’s hands, they prosper. Youth (and especially young women) will play a critical role in the success of this initiative. Often the women in these communities fall within the 18-40 demographic.

Q: How helpful is the mentoring from YPARD in your project planning?

Lillian: I am very impressed with the skills YPARD has taught me so far. The Social Media Bootcamp  is very empowering! I have had never understood (how) valuable tool  social media can be until now.

The YAP has also been phenomenal so far. Today is our second day of mentoring at the conference. I cannot believe how much I have learnt so far. The assistance that Michelle Kovacevic (our facilitator) gives is simply genius! The mentoring program will continue for the next 12 months and I am looking forward to what (how that will) bring this project to life.

Blogpost by Ratih Nawangwulan, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – ratih.nawangwulan(at)gmail.com
Photo courtesy of Oast House Archive

This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.


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