:: Specific Design Brief

Practical Action 3: Sustainable Power - further information


Impact of Project Intervention on Livelihoods To Date

Although the micro-hydro scheme has yet to be commissioned the process of community mobilisation and interaction with various institutions and organisations has already had effects on people's livelihoods. Confidence has increased and people are prepared to be involved in making decisions about issues affecting their lives. Furthermore, they have been proactive in instigating activities related to the scheme for the benefit of the community. The activities and outcomes to date are listed below:

  Women have taken an active role in formal processes of decision-making for the first time, and are working alongside men. This development may have the wider effect of improving the gender balance in the community.

  The community has organised itself to form a commercial development group, the Tungu Kabiri Micro Hydropower Project Management Committee, including women members.

What do they already do/have/grow? What are their livelihoods like?

This section looks at what life was like in the village before the micro-hydro project intervention.


It takes an average of Ksh 2,500 (Kenyan Shillings) per year to send a child to primary school. Able to bear this cost, most people in Mbuiru have attained primary education. Those without formal education are mostly women over fifty. Despite the fact that adult education services are provided in the community, they are apparently not used. The study revealed that 7.8% of people have no formal education. Focus Group Discussions indicate that over 90% of people are literate, i.e. they can read and write English. A significant number are not, however, able to speak the language fluently. Only a small number of people pursue secondary education. Of those who do, at least 5% drop out. Typically, this is because families find school fees of around Ksh 30,000 per student per year unaffordable. This is shown in Figure 3. The average age that people leave secondary school is 16. They then tend to work as labourers, either in agriculture or for companies. Many girls take up employment in households outside the village. Less than 5% of the population goes on to attain a tertiary education. The majority of those people leave the area and find jobs in urban centres.

Natural assets - Land

The main natural asset is land for farming. Sixty percent of households own less than an acre of land. These are considered the poor. Apart from the land, the other natural asset is Tungu River, a crucial resource. Not only does the river provide drinking and irrigation water, Tungu Kabiri waterfall presents the opportunity for developing micro-hydro power.

Climatic patterns create seasonality. Obviously, an economy dependent on agriculture for most of its food and a significant proportion of its cash income is affected by the change in seasons. Livelihood activities also vary between planting and harvest time, between the dry and the rainy seasons. The busiest times for farm work correspond with rainy seasons. At such times people have little time for other livelihood activities. Food production and income from cash crops are not evenly distributed over the year. The sale of produce is greatest during and just after harvests. After food crops such as maize and beans are harvested, people typically sell a proportion to meet their financial needs. A surplus is dried and stored to meet on-going household food needs.

Agricultural production, income and expenditure patterns, then, vary over the year and are generally ill-matched. The need to conserve stocks of food and save money in order to be able to meet needs and expenses the year round is apparent. For many residents of Mbuiru this is a difficult feat as they are living near the margins. Barely coping with seasonality and trends, they are then particularly vulnerable to shocks.

As an example of a 'positive shock', there are occasionally bumper harvests. This means, of course, additional food and income. In this case people can accumulate assets, stored food or cash savings. This provides an enhanced cushion, reducing vulnerability. Unfortunately, drought and famine are more common occurrences than bumper harvests.

Vulnerable Groups

Certain groups in society are more vulnerable to shocks, trends and seasonality. According to the area Lands Adjudication Officer there are at least 10 households in Mbuiru community that have no land. These households are squatting and cannot develop the lands they occupy so, they cannot grow food. All their food requirements, therefore, have to be purchased with cash, typically earned from casual work. These people are evidently vulnerable.

Typically, those with large families, particularly single-parent households, generally widows, have fewer resources and are more vulnerable. The elderly, infirm and ailing too, are at increased risk. Meanwhile, young adults with no paid work can also find it difficult to cope, especially if they come from households already vulnerable on other grounds.

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.

What transport is available to them?

There are two earth roads linking the community to other parts of the District and the rest of the country. Chuka-Kaanwa-Tharaka road lies about 12 km from the village, while Chuka-Mitheru-Kaanwa road is approximately 17km away. Apart from the Chuka-Mitheru section, which is tarmac, both roads are extremely dusty in the dry season and become impassable when it rains. Poorly maintained, they quickly develop gullies and potholes. The local County Council and Ministry of Public Works are said to be responsible for maintenance.

What's their housing like?

Mbuiru residents have used a variety of materials in the construction of their housing. Forty percent have used exclusively mud for walls. Thirty percent used wood and the remainder used stone. Everyone used iron sheets for the roofs of their houses. All respondents were concerned about the high cost of erecting stone or wooden houses, which are regarded as superior to traditional mud. Two third of houses have less than 5 rooms

The potential market for a successful business venture is huge - The Tharaka region has several hundred thousand inhabitants, with Meru itself over 100,000.

What sort of potential market do they have?

Kaanwa trading centre is the nearest market for Mbuiru. It is approximately 2km from the site of the proposed micro-hydro installation and has a 'catchment area' of 8km2. Unfortunately, the market lacks water and adequate sanitation facilities. Community members must, nevertheless, meet at Kaanwa to buy and sell goods and services. Basic commodities, such as food, farm produce and livestock are sold at the open market. The market does not, however, supply all the equipment and inputs households require. Farmers, for example, report constraints to productivity due to a lack of inputs ranging from tools to fertilisers, pesticides and animal medicines. Kaanwa market acts as an administrative centre for Chuka Division. Various government agencies and officials are located there, including the Divisional Officer, Police Post, Lands Office, the Chief and Assistant Chief.

Government Regulations

Are there any government regulations etc that might affect their enterprise development?

  Policies, Institutions and Processes

Various policies, institutions and processes obviously impact on the livelihoods of people in Mbuiru. The study looks at how these affected the community before the project intervention. Of interest is considering changes in PIPs that might ensure maximum livelihood benefit results from the operation of the micro-hydro project.

Government institutions

Government institutions are custodians of legislation and regulations on the use of various public resources found in the area. For example, the water department provides the community with the licenses to use river water for domestic, irrigation and energy purposes. The Ministry of Lands furnishes people with title deeds and carries out land adjudication activities. The Local Authority, apart from facilitating business and micro-enterprise development, administers taxation of the same. The administrative units provide law and order, and administer all social and development activities in the area.

Administrative units: Mbuiru is in Karingani location and is administered by the local Chief, who heads the location's development committee. It falls under the Chuka Division, Meru District. Policies 'trickle down' from higher authorities to the Location.

Government ministries: The most important in the area include the Water Department, the Land Adjudication Department, the Ministry of Public Works, and the Ministry of Health.

Local authorities: Mbuiru community falls under Meru South County Council, which administers all services and controls activities at Kaanwa Market

Educational and training institutions: There are 7 primary schools in the area, serving Mbuiru and neighbouring communities: Mbuiru, Miraja, Kiegumo, Ndumbeni, Kiganju, Mwanjati and Kaanwa. Ekangaria is the only secondary school, while Kiriribo Youth Polytechnic offers apprenticeships in carpentry, tailoring and masonry.

Village Development Committee: There is a Village Development Committee (VDC) which has a mandate to articulate local development needs and priorities to the Location Development Committee to District Development Committee. However it has not been very successful due to a lack of capacity, and its perception as part of a Government instrument rather than the true voice of the community

Non-Governmental and private organisations

Several church groups in the area administer to people's spiritual needs and are active in community development activities. For instance, two church groups, The Presbyterian Church Of East Africa (Chogoria Mission) and the Anglican Church Of Kenya, run the two dispensaries in the area. The Catholic Church and the Christian Mission sponsor some schools and give bursaries to needy students. There are more than eight churches in the area.

Policies and Processes

Policies with a definite influence on people's livelihood strategies include the Land, Water and Power Acts.

Land Act
The Land act has certainly affected the development of the area, with a lack of title deeds and the process of land adjudication directly impacting on people's livelihoods.

Land adjudication involves surveying and registration of land for the purpose of establishing individual ownership through the issuing of Land Title deeds. Land in Mbuiru area had not been adjudicated and so people have no legal ownership. They own it as a communal land but do not have individual ownership. However, land adjudication is taking place and soon the community will be issued with land title deeds.

Water Act
The Water Act controls the extraction of water from Tungu river for irrigation purposes.

Power Act
The Power Act is particularly relevant to schemes proposing exploiting rivers for micro-hydro power. The Electric Power Act, 1997, relates to the generation, transmission and distribution of all electrical power in Kenya. In relation to community hydropower, the Act does not allow power to be distributed (except by the official Kenya Power and Lighting Company) although power can be generated up to 100 kW. There are also no set standards for micro hydropower- only for larger hydropower schemes.

The only market for farm produce in the area, as discussed, is Kaanwa trading centre, administered by the County Council. British American and Mastermind, meanwhile, largely control the process of selling tobacco.

What sort of potential market do they have?

Kaanwa trading centre is the nearest market for Mbuiru. It is approximately 2km from the site of the proposed micro-hydro installation and has a 'catchment area' of 8km2. Unfortunately, the market lacks water and adequate sanitation facilities. Community members must, nevertheless, meet at Kaanwa to buy and sell goods and services. Basic commodities, such as food, farm produce and livestock are sold at the open market. The market does not, however, supply all the equipment and inputs households require. Farmers, for example, report constraints to productivity due to a lack of inputs ranging from tools to fertilisers, pesticides and animal medicines. Kaanwa market acts as an administrative centre for Chuka Division. Various government agencies and officials are located there, including the Divisional Officer, Police Post, Lands Office, the Chief and Assistant Chief.

What small enterprises exist already?

The turbine for the scheme was installed on 1 June 2020. Practical Action worked with the local community committee to build four workshops in the acre of land given by the government. At present two are operational. One houses a hairdressing salon and the other a battery charging operation. In addition, a third workshop will soon be taken over by a flour mill. It currently uses diesel oil to power it. The owner has calculated that he will be able to half the price of his flour when he converts the machine to electric power. There are also plans for a welding unit to open.

However, the village committee have also promised that they will build a further ten workshops when they have enough funds. A list of potential small enterprises that might use those additional workshops is given below.