Project Lead(s): Ramani Sankaranarayanan
In early 2000, almost a quarter of the middle-aged population in the Nyanza province of Western Kenya succumbed to AIDS, leaving orphans in the care of their grandmothers – Older Women Caregivers (OWCs).
These women (who farm) often have severe health issues, caused primarily by malnutrition, and are challenged to grow enough produce to feed their families, due to crop failures caused by droughts.
Increasing food production and providing a source of income could reduce the disease burden and improve access to healthcare for these OWCs.
The village-level biodiesel (VLB) project at the Matangwe Community Health Centre in Kenya sought to increase the production and consumption of high-nutrient foods, to provide OWCs with a source of income and, in the long term, have a positive impact on their access to, and use of, health services.
Cereals, legumes and oil seeds were identified as a suitable package of crops for development by OWC groups, with amaranth and sukuma wiki cultivation being encouraged in kitchen gardens. Oil cake has become a popular chicken food and a new, closed-loop model is being tested at the Matangwe Pilot Plant using an oil mill and composter, with chicken manure and compost being used in the kitchen gardens.
The unit produces cold-pressed, filtered, virgin sunflower oil and surplus oil cake, as well as chicken and vegetables with the Health Centre serving as a steady market for the produce.
A similar model is being promoted with the local schools, with the OWCs converting oilseeds into oil. Two locally abundant species of non-edible oil seeds have been successfully converted into biodiesel, to fuel power tillers.
The project has improved access to community tools for the OWCs.
Two groups have taken up sunflower farming – not to sell their harvest but to press it into edible oil for their own consumption.
The virgin cold-pressed oil is gaining popularity as a healthy alternative to lard and vegetable fat usually purchased for cash.
Women members of the Siage OWC group now own a tiller and are able to use it to cultivate their land; they are also taking up fee-based contracts to till farmers’ land in Siage and neighbouring villages to generate income.
The project team intends to apply for Transition to Scale (TTS) funding to scale the project beyond the villages around the Matangwe Community Health Centre.
Discussions are ongoing with banks (e.g., the Equity Bank) to finance the OWC groups, which are challenging given the banks’ reluctance to finance groups as they are seen as riskier than individual borrowers. The project hopes to get a more complete proof-of-concept related to health outcomes in the next six months.
Over time, revenues are expected to be sufficient to not only cover the cost of running these businesses, but also make them profitable enterprises that will attract financing.