What are current income levels like?

Most residents of Mbuiru, 82.5%, have an annual income of less than Ksh 150, 000. The main occupation in the area is small-scale farming. Women are more involved in farming than men, the proportion of the community represented being 76.3 % and 23.7% respectively. Farming provides people with subsistence food and some income, around 28% of the total annual income per household. The major cash crop grown is tobacco, cultivated by 83% of households. It contributes on average Ksh 24,060 per year to each household involved. Food crops include maize, beans, sorghum millet, potatoes and bananas. While most food crops are consumed locally, a proportion is also sold to generate income. Although tobacco is grown as a cash crop, the community can be considered as predominantly a subsistence economy. Financial security is limited and income unpredictable, depending mainly on the weather.

There is no limited access to micro credit, as most families do not have collateral to secure against a loan. The surveys showed that over 95% of the community members do not have any savings. Only members formally employed or in stable business (usually based outside the community) have some savings. That notwithstanding, the community members save assets in the form of goats, chicken and trees which they sell when there is a situation that needs finances e.g. school fees, hospital fees etc. However, savings in the form of money is quite limited.


What's the health of the people like?

The incidence of human disease is also dependent on seasonality, reflected in higher medical bills at certain times of year. At the onset of both rainy seasons, the incidences of malaria, typhoid and diarrhoea increase. At such times, the river is dirty with floodwater and less safe to drink; water-diseases are common.

The community experience shocks due to drought, famine and disease, particularly malaria, typhoid, cholera and HIV/AIDS. According to focus group discussions, people are increasingly aware of AIDS/HIV and are taking precautions. To date, not many people have died of the disease. Other health risks include respiratory problems due to air pollution inside dwellings when biomass is burned for cooking. Accidents with kerosene lamps sometimes cause - usually minor - burns.

Illness, and of course death, obviously alter the livelihood pattern of affected households. In such circumstances, households may be forced to sell food stocks or other assets in order to cope. As a result, their vulnerability to seasonal impacts, trends and further shocks is increased.

Energy Supply

What's their current energy supply?

With respect to energy, residents of Mbuiru have no mains electricity. The nearest grid is in Chuka. Rechargeable wet-cell batteries are used for powering television sets and some radios and radio-cassettes players. These batteries are re-charged in Chuka at a cost. Dry-cell batteries are used in other radios and torches. A few households possess a Solar Home System (SHS), which they use to charge batteries and power electrical appliances.

Around 80% of households in the village own some form of electrical equipment. Radios are quite common, while a smaller number have spotlights and/or black and white televisions. Of those with electrical equipment, 75% spend an average of Ksh 500 on battery charging and/or dry cells each month. This figure, though, ignores the additional cost of transport from the village to Chuka. This effectively increases expenditure to over Ksh 700. People complain that sometimes wet-cell batteries are spoilt during transportation.

Woodfuel is used by 100% of the population in the area, predominantly for cooking and curing tobacco. Sixty-five percent of households spend a monthly average of Ksh 500 on woodfuel. Those who spend more than Ksh 2,000 are typically involved in tobacco curing on a larger scale or are running kiosks that supply hot food.

Most households use kerosene for lighting. It is bought at market centres, usually Chuka. Sixty percent of the population use between 1 and 3 litres of kerosene per month, seventy five percent of them spending a monthly average of at least Ksh500. Diesel is only used to run the grain mill in the village.

Energy Strategies

  • Many forms of energy are not readily available to the community of Mbuiru. Over 90 % of residents purchase their energy needs. On average, households spend 12.8% of their total monthly income on energy. Wood and kerosene are the main sources involved.

  • Fuelwood, which is used by all households, is purchased on the market, cut from trees on people's own farms or gathered (legally and illegally) from nearby areas.

    Some people resort to burning charcoal. There are legislative implications attached, however, as permits must be obtained to fell a tree for any reason, and there is also a complete ban on charcoal burning.

Micro-hydro electricity

Before you begin

Web References

Background to Kenya

The Mbuiru Community

Practical possibilities for small scale enterprise



Vulnerable Groups



Energy Supply





Potential markets

Existing small enterprises

Design possibilities