Nakuru County government has entered into a deal with the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) in which the firm will provide geothermal energy for direct use in farming to enhance food security in the region.
The County, which is home to Africa’s largest geothermal power plants located at Olkaria in Naivasha and Menengai in the outskirts of Nakuru town, is banking on the use of steam power to enhance food security and drive its economy.
The county recently signed a memorandum of understanding with GDC.
Present during the signing of the MoU was Governor Lee Kinyanjui and GDC boss Jared Othieno. GDC will now allow the county to use geothermal steam in agriculture.
“We have entered into a deal with GDC. We want our farmers to use steam and technology in food production which will enhance food security and also create wealth for our people. The MoU will help us initiate a partnership on how direct use of steam can benefit farmers through agro-processing, breading of fish, pasteurisation among others,” said Governor Kinyanjui.
County Executive for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Immaculate Njuthe Maina revealed that Nakuru has partnered with GDC to fully incorporate geothermal energy into farming in the region.
“The partnership will go a long way towards empowering farmers and other investors by increasing their production, helping control pests and diseases along with reducing post-harvest losses. Geothermal energy will be critical especially in bolstering the twin pillars of manufacturing and food security in the Big Four agenda,” said Dr Maina.
With the deal, farmers in Nakuru will now use geothermal energy in crop production and to heat greenhouses to accelerate the growth of horticultural products and other crops including vegetables.
The energy will also provide local farmers with reliable and cheap electricity.
“Our aim is to promote the utilisation of geothermal energy for direct use. Reliable and cheap electricity is key to the dairy industry and cooperatives in the region,” added Dr Maina.
According to Mr Kamau Kuria, a director at GDC, the direct use energy project, which started in 2015 and is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), will provide an instrument for establishing various collaborative initiatives that will save energy by up to 80 per cent compared to fossil fuels.
“The national government’s focus in the next five years is enhancing food security, manufacturing, provision of affordable housing and health services. The development of geothermal energy will plug in vital support,” said Mr Kuria.
Crops under geothermal-heated greenhouses are pesticide-free because the heat prevents the growth of fungi. Geothermal energy can also be used to heat fishponds.
Steam and superheated water are normally used in some agro-industrial processes that require high temperatures, although lower temperatures can sometimes be used, especially for drying agricultural products.
Generally, geothermal energy can be used in greenhouse heating, aquaculture, agro-industrial processes like milk pasteurisation and soil heating (of open-field plant root systems) among other functions.
Mr Kuria revealed that GDC is planning to drill more wells in densely populated farming areas in the region.
“We are opening up green fields mostly dreaded by the private sector and we want to turn them into bankable projects attractive to investors even as we support agriculture. Already, the Menengai geothermal project is actualising this model,” he said.
While the focus on geothermal power in East Africa has mainly been on electricity generation, experts in Kenya say that its potential goes beyond this into agriculture, health, tourism and hotel industries.
GDC is already engaged in a large number of direct use energy projects including fish rearing, tomato and capsicum farming among others.
Nakuru County is banking on geothermal energy to power industrial reforms, restore the region’s lost glory and help in the realisation of the national government’s Big Four agenda.
The county is now on the brink of experiencing major flows of new investments following an unprecedented boom in geothermal energy exploration and production.
This comes at a time when plans are underway to build an industrial park in Naivasha.
According to Governor Kinyanjui, the county government now targets key investments that will turn around fortunes and bolster its revenue base.
“We are anticipating a boom in the geothermal industry in the county which will, in turn, open some of the most exciting investment opportunities for investors. Various investors have shown interest in putting up industries in the county because of an affordable source of power. We want geothermal energy to support the economic fortunes of Nakuru,” said Mr Kinyanjui.
Nakuru County has been luring both local and international investors to take advantage of the affordable energy reservoirs to set base in the region.
Since last year, Governor Kinyanjui has been luring investors from India, Oman, Europe, United States and the Netherlands among other countries seeking to make key investments in Nakuru.
The investors are expected to tap into areas such as large scale greenhouses, meat processing plants and manufacture of geothermal gases such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide among other areas.