LINK team carries out rainwater harvesting field research in Eastern Kenya

Farmers in Kenya’s drylands use numerous techniques and technologies to capture the scant water that falls during rainy seasons.  Rainwater harvesting (RWH) technologies, which range from simple to complex — and inexpensive to very expensive — also vary in effectiveness and optimal use.  In order to make smart decisions about financing and implementing RWH structures, it is important to know not just their technical specifications and expected water capacity, but also their return on investment (ROI) on the ground.  At present, this data is largely unavailable. LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) winner Dr. Kennedy Mwetu of Kenyatta University (KU) had a number of questions that he knew needed to be answered in order for farmers, financiers, and implementing organizations to make better decisions on RWH: How quickly can a farmer reach ROI in a “farm pond,”?  How does ROI differ for a large, community-owned “sand dam”? What combination of crops and other inputs make for optimal ROI?  Mwetu, a team of researchers and graduate students from KU, and partners from World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) in Nairobi set out in late October 2013 to identify empirical data suggesting answers to these and other questions. Their ultimate goal was to identify viable business models for RWH, and free up financing for the most effective, scalable technologies. […]

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Announcing LINK Round IV: Solving Challenges in Africa Through Collaboration

The Global Knowledge Initiative is proud to announce the commencement of a fourth round of our flagship partnership-forging, LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) program.  GKI designed LINK to harness the power of international collaboration to solve development challenges.  Specifically, LINK seeks to solve challenges that beckon for scientific and technical research, scientific and technical education, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  The LINK process involves four core functions: activating communities of practice, locating resources, enabling sustainable partnerships by learning shared tools and processes for collaborative innovation, and connecting people and resources together into durable purpose-driven networks to solve challenges. The fourth round of LINK targets researchers from East and Southern Africa working on challenges in the fields of agriculture, food security, water and land management, and/or climate change.  Applicants must submit their completed Request for Engagement by January 17, 2013.  GKI will announce the winning proposal in Spring 2014, after which the LINK network-formation process will begin. Distinct from typical research grant programs, LINK eschews traditional methods of delivering development assistance in favor of fostering collaborative networks of stakeholders in the academic, public, and private sectors.  The program is not a direct funding mechanism.  Rather, LINK provides participants with the tools to solve their challenges: practical trainings in collaboration, communication, and networking; an in-depth analysis of the participant’s challenge context; a small amount of seed funding to initiate partnership formation; assistance in developing a working network; and a design process that helps define specific challenges and determine the best ways to tackle them.   […]

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Improving the lives of rural Kenyan women through improved water access

After years of off-and-on droughts and with the specter of continued climate change looming, Kenya faces an enormous challenge in providing access to water to its citizens.  Many rural and poor urban communities do not have access to clean, safe water.  One reason for this: large parts of the country are arid or semi-arid, and only 9.7% of the land is considered arable. Only 54% of rural Kenyans—many of whom live in the drylands—have access to an improved water source, while 84% of urban Kenyans enjoy access to an improved water source. Although water scarcity affects Kenyans across gender and socioeconomic divisions, water scarcity uniquely harms women and girls.   Women and girls bear the burden of looking for water sources for their families, walking long distances to often find only unclean and unsafe water.  In the drylands, especially during droughts, the time that women and girls spend gathering water crowds out time available for education, starting businesses, and other activities that can improve their and their families’ lives.  For girls who are fortunate enough to attend school regularly, a lack of clean water and efficient latrines in schools make it difficult for girls to use the facilities, especially during their menstrual period.  Such unsanitary conditions cause these girls to miss school and may increase the probability of their leaving school early. Women and girls also put their health at risk when fetching water that is contaminated with parasites.  To make matters worse, their families contract water-borne diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid and diarrhea from consuming this water.  In families already suffering from poverty, a serious illness can mean that children (particularly girls) must drop out of school to take care of sick family members or work to support their families.   […]

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Sharing skills, building livelihoods: Kenyan trainers teach Ugandan youths about hay baling

John Thumbi never thought he would be an international trainer.  Raised in Mweiga, Central Kenya by his grandparents, John grew up with little money and distinctly inauspicious prospects.  He did not complete secondary school, and—as a young adult—had no marketable skill.  In 2009, however, John discovered the Children and Youth Empowerment Center (CYEC), a non-profit community organization in Nyeri, Kenya connected to Penn State University (PSU), where he took carpentry classes.  When he completed, he says “The director told me not to go home—I could start a youth group at CYEC.” Zawadi Youth Enterprise was born out of the entrepreneurial aspirations and abilities of young CYEC alumni, existing to provide training and entrepreneurial opportunities to young people. Zawadi ventures include tailoring, chickens, bee keeping, gardening, and zero-grazing dairy goats. One of Zawadi Youth’s most successful ventures, though, is hay baling.  Dr. Sjoerd Duiker, an associate professor of soil management and extension specialist at PSU, introduced innovative and yet affordable technologies to mow grass and bale hay to the Zawadi Youth in December of 2011. John and two other young people from Zawadi marketed their newly learned skills to local farmers. Cattle are often undernourished in East Africa, and nutritious hay can greatly improve their health and milk production.  Despite numerous challenges, by 2012 the hay baling initiative had become a viable, rapidly growing business, allowing John and his friends to make their own income. Sjoerd Duiker met Michael Kansiime, head of the Secretariat at AFRISA (African Institute for Strategic Animal Resource Services and Development), a center at Makerere University in Uganda, at the 2012 Africa Collaboration Colloquium held at PSU in August 2012. The Colloquium—hosted by PSU and the Global Knowledge Initiative—offered a prize of $20,000 for an innovation that would be implemented by teams made up of African and US-based collaborators.  After meeting at the Colloquium, PSU Soil Research Laboratory manager Dr. Ephraim Govere kept in touch with Kansiime, and soon approached Duiker about the possibility of collaborating with […]

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Report we’ve been excited to read: USAID’s 1st Water and Development Strategy

This week, the US Agency for International Development released its first ever Water and Development Strategy (2013-2018). We at the Global Knowledge Initiative were thrilled by this important step, both because of the importance of USAID’s leadership in international development and policy, and also because of the stake we have in sustainable access to and quality of water. In Kenya, we are working with a team based at Kenyatta University – and with partners Kickstart, Kenya Rainwater Association, Kenyan university partners, and others – through our LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) project to identify viable business models for rainwater harvesting. In Malaysia, we are beginning a project with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) to gather water challenges from Malaysian communities and bring together students, university researchers, and community members to develop solutions. We salute USAID’s decision to release this important strategy, and we hope that together those of us working on this crucial issue will be able to improve access to – and quality of – water for all. […]

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Kenya Stakeholder Dialogue on Water Harvesting: See After-Action Report Here

In January, a group of us from GKI were in Kenya with Dr. Kennedy Mwetu and the LINK Kenya team. The trip was exciting for a number of reasons, including having the chance to visit farmers in Kitui County, and sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Kenyatta University. One of the most important parts of the trip, though, was a dialogue and workshop on rainwater harvesting hosted by GKI and Kenyatta University on January 16. Thirty-one stakeholders from Kenya’s government, non-profit, and university communities came together to identify ways to boost farmer incomes through rainwater harvesting. We have a long way to go, but we at GKI believe that the partnerships forged at this event have the capacity to be catalytic, and change the direction of water scarcity interventions in Kenya. Read the recently released International Stakeholder Dialogue and Workshop on Water Harvesting in Kenya’s Arid and Sem-Arid Lands (PDF). […]

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Kenyatta University and GKI sign Memorandum of Understanding

At a ceremony held at Kenyatta University on January 10, 2013 GKI Chief Operating Officer Sara Farley and Kenyatta University Deputy Vice Rector Prof. John Okumu signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) linking the two organizations. The partnership came about through the LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) program, the third round of which Kenyatta University lecturer Dr. Kennedy Mwetu won in June 2012. The MOU marks the beginning of a relationship that will hopefully move beyond LINK Round III and spawn many more LINK partnerships. Kenyatta University Dean of the School of Agriculture and Enterprise Development Prof. Waceke Wanjohi expressed her hope that this would be the case, as did Sara Farley. We are very happy to have the opportunity to announce this new partnership. This MOU signing was part of a larger, two-week intensive that GKI carried out with Dr. Mwetu and his LINK Team. More information and updates coming soon. […]

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