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    Standing on a pedestrian bridge above one of Nairobi’s busiest roads, Ann Masiga watches a stream of private minibuses ferry commuters to their homes around the city. Even a few metres above the traffic, the air is thick with gasoline and diesel fumes. Masiga is working hard with the Kenyan government to fix the disorganised transit service and the bad air.

    “Better transport, water and energy, these are all big deals for this country,” says Masiga, a loan officer in Nairobi for the European Investment Bank. “Poor infrastructure or poor transport systems are an impediment to everything — getting kids to school, getting a job, getting food, getting to the hospital. I don’t get tired of focusing on these issues because my work has a positive impact on many ordinary Kenyans.”

    One of Masiga’s biggest projects in 2023 is a new rapid-transit bus network for the capital. Currently without any formal transport system, Nairobi will soon have modern bus terminals, platforms to get on and off buses easily, well-lit bus stops, paths for pedestrians and bicyclists, and dedicated bus lanes on the overcrowded highways. The project includes one of the first all-electric bus lines in East Africa. Masiga was a key part of the European Investment Bank team that prepared a €201 million loan for the electric line. The deal includes a €32 million grant from the European Union.

    “We're going to really make a difference to the Nairobi public service system,” says Masiga, whose career as a public servant is inspired by her mother, Elizabeth Semo Masiga, a pioneer for women’s education in Kenya and the first female permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education. “It will have a knock-on effect that could change transport systems throughout the country.” 

    Linking climate and innovation in Kenya

    The new electric bus line is a measure of how closely Kenya’s future is linked to climate action and innovative technologies. A leader in renewable energy, the country is increasing its investments in green technology, as well as encouraging businesses to be innovative and more willing to look across the continent for opportunities and growth. The country is developing initiatives to boost food supply, support small farms, improve exports, and be more inclusive towards disadvantaged parts of society. The electric bus is a key artery in the body of this forward-looking Kenya, where maize farmers walk through fields with their eyes trained on mobile apps to improve yields. Where mango producers use state-of-the-art cold-storage technology to preserve crops. And the country’s advanced geothermal plants are the model for renewable energy programmes replicated all over Africa.

    Ann Masiga looks forward to big improvements in the city’s transport network.

    This is the innovative Kenya that found a partner in the European Investment Bank. Nairobi is the EU bank’s regional hub, with nearly 30 staff members working for its EIB Global development arm. The East Africa hub serves Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. The European Investment Bank has invested more than €1.5 billion in Kenya since the mid-1970s in renewable energy, access to clean water, urban development, financial inclusion and small businesses. The creation of the hub in 2021 and of EIB Global in 2022 is boosting the Bank’s presence and impact in the region still more.

    My work has a positive impact on many ordinary Kenyans.
    Ann Masiga

    Loan officer for European Investment Bank

    ‘We can do much more in the future’

    “I have no reason to believe that this country’s future is not bright.”
    XN Iraki

    Professor at University of Nairobi

    Kenya’s story today is one of the old coexisting with the futuristic, of traditional smallholder farming without tractors or machinery alongside the most advanced green energy technology and digital mobile payments systems, of women working in time-honoured family roles and also finding prominent positions in the management and creation of businesses.

    “If you talk to people here, they can be very pessimistic, but if you see what we have done in the past in this country, you just say to yourself, ‘We can do much more in the future,’” says XN Iraki, a professor in the Faculty of Business and Management Sciences at the University of Nairobi.

    Iraki grew up in the countryside without power, running water, a refrigerator or stove. Later he taught in the United States, but when he returned to his country he found a widespread drive to innovate. “I have no reason to believe that this country’s future is not bright,” he says.

    XN Iraki says there is a widespread drive to innovate in Kenya.

    Innovation for Kenya to leapfrog the climate polluting stage

    To ensure a bright future, climate action and innovation are both vitally important, in Europe and across the globe. But Africa is profoundly at risk from global warming. The continent needs trillions of dollars in green investment – and Kenya aims to be at the forefront of the transition. 

    Kenya is positioned to leap past the heavily polluting industrial stage of growth, shifting to a more sustainable society. In 2008, the country created the Vision 2030 development programme, aiming to use 100% renewable energy by 2030. Renewable sources already supply more than 90% of Kenya’s electricity. The country has invested heavily in hydropower and solar parks, but especially in geothermal power. Geothermal operations produce more than 40% of Kenya’s power.

    Since the 1950s, “Kenya is the pioneer of geothermal progress in Africa,” says Peketsa Mangi, who is standing in the middle of a lush field in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley with plumes of thick, white, noisy steam belching up from the earth behind him.

    Though he grew up in rural Kenya without power in a home lit by smoky lanterns, Mangi is now general manager of geothermal development at the Olkaria site, one of the largest geothermal operations in the world. Located about 120 kilometres north of Nairobi, the complex sits mostly within Hell’s Gate National Park

    The Park is known for towering cliffs, gorges, rock towers, natural spas and plumes of steam shooting from subterranean depths. The geothermal energy emerges through long fault lines in the earth’s crust that cut through East Africa and bring the planet’s magma heat closer to the surface.

    Flanked on all sides by ranches and flower farms, Olkaria’s geothermal plants tap the earth’s energy by drilling several thousand metres into the ground, then capturing steam and transporting it through pipelines to drive turbines that create electricity. Big white pipes carry water or steam all around the Olkaria complex, which covers about 70 square kilometres. The pipes sit on stilts to allow animals to pass underneath, and even have loops that allow tall giraffes to wander freely. In the mornings, the giraffes eat breakfast among the trees near the geothermal buildings.

    “Without geothermal energy, it would be very hard for this country to meet its power demand,” Mangi says.

    Kenya is the pioneer of geothermal progress in Africa.
    Peketsa Mangi

    Geothermal manager at Olkaria

    "Without geothermal energy, it would be very hard for this country to meet its power demand."

    Peketsa Mangi

    Renewable energy finance boosts Kenya green tech

    Kenya will keep expanding geothermal energy, but it is also exporting technical knowledge about electricity and green energy to countries across Africa. The European Investment Bank is one of the biggest supporters of Kenya’s geothermal operations, having made several big investments since the 1980s. Most recently it financed more wells and steam-gathering systems at Olkaria in 2017.

    The Bank also supported the biggest windfarm in Africa in a hot and dry part of northern Kenya next to Lake Turkana. It signed a €225 million loan for this windfarm in 2014, giving a big boost in financing and confidence to the decade-long project. The European Union contributed €25 million to the project from the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund. The area now has over 300 wind turbines and supplies enough electricity for more than a million homes.

    Anna Mwangi, a geophysicist at the Olkaria site and an active mentor to young women in the energy sector, sees this industry as a good path for women to get ahead. Inclusion is a big topic in Kenyan society and industry, she says, as more women are now advocating for equal treatment and equal jobs. Mwangi has worked nearly 15 years for the Kenya Electricity Generating Co., the government-run power utility. Gender attitudes have changed during this time and are still evolving. “Kenya has taken a lead not just in the energy sector,” she says, “but also in empowering women in this field and recognizing the resources of women.”

    But more needs to be done. “Women still have to work 10 times harder to get noticed in my field,” Mwangi says. “I am now an empowered woman, but I need to be ready to also empower the ones who are coming up behind me, so that we are holding each other’s hand. They don’t necessarily have to follow my path, but we’re here to pave the way.”

    Anna Mwangi says the growing renewable energy industry in Kenya is a good career path for women.

    Innovation to bring access to food

    I’m really proud to be part of this impact.
    Geoffrey Emungat

    Cold storage manager at Tatu

    Many new companies in Kenya are adopting policies for gender equality – and recognizing the need for other social and environmental measures. Cold Chain, an advanced cold-storage plant that opened in August 2023 in Tatu, about 40 kilometres outside Nairobi, has a modern green energy policy and a social plan to empower women. The company encourages women to pursue a career in any part of the operation. It also promotes jobs for disadvantaged sectors of society. The sparkling-clean site was built with energy-efficient materials and is the largest cold warehouse facility of its kind on the continent, outside South Africa. The plant was built to meet the standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green certification programme used worldwide.

    The European Investment Bank signed a €15 million equity investment in 2021 with a fund that built the Tatu plant. The fund, called ARCH Cold Chain Solutions East Africa, is building cold-storage operations across this part of the continent. This East Africa fund was supported by an investment facility financed by European Union member states.  The Tatu site is the crown jewel of the East Africa fund and a flagship project of Kenya’s Vision 2030 programme. This operation also is an important part of Kenya’s push to support one of the main United Nations Sustainable Development Goals — ending hunger.

    Kenya’s constitution says everyone has the right to be free of hunger and have access to good food. In some parts of Africa, more than 50% of food is spoiled before it can be eaten, because of a lack of refrigeration. When fully operational, Cold Chain will store bananas, apples, avocados, poultry and other perishables. It will protect produce for restaurants and help pharmaceutical companies, especially those storing COVID-19 vaccines.

    Geoffrey Emungat says the government and private sector are working hard to eliminate the risks of storing and transporting food in Kenya.
    It’s sometimes difficult getting certain jobs at companies, because the competition is too high for women to get a chance.
    Rusbellah Abunya

    Forklift driver at Tatu

    “Food insecurity causes a lot of problems in society, and there is a big gap in cold storage,” says Geoffrey Emungat, a facilities manager at the Tatu site, as he walks around the sprawling warehouse. “The government and private sector are really trying to work hard on eliminating the risks of storing and transporting food, but this facility also wants to have a good influence on society and the climate. I’m really proud to be part of this impact.”

    Traditionally, large refrigeration systems don’t have the best environmental reputations, partly because they use a lot of energy. Cold Chain is installing solar panels to provide 20% of the location’s electricity. Most of its power comes from geothermal and hydroelectric plants. And its refrigeration is powered by ammonia, which doesn’t directly contribute to global warming.

    "I wouldn’t take it lightly if someone says I can’t do a job like this,” says Rusbellah Abunya, a forklift truck driver.

    In the expansive cold-storage warehouse in Tatu, Rusbellah Abunya moves products to shelves that run more than five metres in the air with her forklift truck. “It’s sometimes difficult getting certain jobs at companies, because the competition is too high for women to get a chance,” she says while sitting in her truck. “Kenyan women are strong and independent. I wouldn’t take it lightly if someone said I can’t do a job like this.”

    Kenya in-depth

    • Agriculture is the leading economic engine
    • Main sectors the country wants to improve are food supply, manufacturing, affordable housing and healthcare
    • Aims for 100% renewable energy by end of decade
    • A leader in geothermal energy and mobile payment services
    The Westlands neighbourhood of Nairobi.

    Innovations that encourage inclusive societies

    Vert, a mango-processing company in Machakos, about one hour’s drive from Nairobi, is another operation that’s expanding while making a positive impact on society. Vert received a loan from Equity Bank, a Kenyan lender that is one of the leading supporters of small farms. Equity Bank signed a €25 million deal in 2019 with the European Investment Bank and another €25 million in 2020. The deals included grants from the European Union and were part of the Kenya Agriculture Value Chain Facility. This programme, backed by the European Union, helps agricultural companies modernise, improving smallholder farmers’ operations, encouraging inclusive societies, and assisting young people. 

    Vert supplies big juice producers such as Coca-Cola and sells a variety of dried fruit. It works with more than 5 000 small farms, especially those that are only a couple of acres. To be green, it uses seeds and mango peels to fuel the plant’s boilers, as well as solar panels to reduce reliance on the national electricity grid. The company prioritises employing women and working with farms run by women, because one of the owners’ goals is to increase female entrepreneurship.

    "Kenya is creating an environment that is good for women to get more involved in the economy and show what they can do," says Jane Maina, managing director of Vert.

    "Kenya is creating an environment that is good for women,” says Jane Maina, whose mango company prioritises the employment of women.

    ‘Right now, it’s the economy’

    Jackline Musyoka, who has a degree in microbiology and biotechnology, works as a laboratory analyst at Vert. A lot of her friends are struggling to find jobs not necessarily because of inequality, but as a result of an unpredictable economy.

    “I’m being optimistic that things will get better in the end, but a lot of us are having a hard time,” Musyoka says, while taking a break from her work inspecting big barrels of mango pulp that will soon be sent to a Coca-Cola plant. “Right now, it’s the economy. It’s taking a toll on people. It’s tough out there. Everybody is struggling.”

    "I’m being optimistic that things will get better."

    Jackline Musyoka
    Laboratory analyst at Vert

    Innovative insurance for the smallest farmers

    Iraki, the University of Nairobi professor, says Kenya’s economic future will improve if Kenyans work harder to solve problems by thinking on a continental and global basis.

    “When you go to other countries in Africa, like Rwanda or Uganda,” he says, “you see how Kenya is way ahead of other countries.”

    One company trying to grow by being more innovative and solving some of the most important problems in society is Pula, which offers insurance products for the smallest farms. Owners of small farms often have no support system and struggle with the unpredictable rainfall, heat and droughts caused by climate change.

    “When we speak about smallholder farmers, we are looking at people who are farming for subsistence, for their daily consumption, and maybe selling some of their produce to be able to generate an income to spend on school fees or the day-to-day running of their homes,” says Faith Kinuthia, a field operations director at Pula.

    On a visit to small farms in Nakuru County, about four hours by car north of Nairobi, Kinuthia notes that “insurance helps shield these farmers from many risks, such as lack of rain or pests and diseases. If pests come into a farm and destroy the crops, the farmer ends up with nothing. If you talk to these farmers, of course they will tell you they are experiencing many changes brought about by climate change.”

    “If you talk to these farmers, they will tell you they are experiencing many changes brought about by climate change.”

    Faith Kinuthia
    Field operations director at Pula

    A high-tech response to climate change

    Small farmers in Kenya represent one of the largest portions of the workforce. And agriculture is the leading source of economic activity, employment and exports. Agriculture employs more than 40% of the population, including 70% of the rural population, and constitutes more the 30% of Kenya’s gross domestic product. 

    Pula helps the part of this population in the greatest need by:

    • using technology to assess crop damages quickly
    • providing digital tools and agronomy advisory services to improve farming practices
    • using mobile apps that make it easier for field agents to work closely with farmers. 

    These services are important as climate change makes farmers’ livelihoods more fragile. 

    Teresiah Wambui, left, and her mother, Lucy, waiting while Pula field agents measure their farm’s maize production and see if they qualify for an insurance payment.

    Climate insurance

    Dominick Wanyoike runs a tiny maize farm in Nakuru County, an area that mainly comprises smallholder farmers living on fewer than 5 hectares each. Weather patterns are changing in Kenya, and this especially hurts small farms, says Wanyoike, who is using his bare hands to separate grain from a small pile of maize husks in the garden at the front of his house. 

    “We decided to get insurance after one recent year when we were expecting the rains to come as usual, but they never came,” Wanjoike says. “The actual harvest was very low, our life was getting harder, and the increasing droughts were making life challenging.”

    “The increasing droughts were making life challenging.”

    Dominick Wanyoike
    Farmer in Nakuru County

    Pula launched its insurance products for smallholder farms in Kenya in 2015 and is expanding to other countries in the region. The company embeds the insurance into the costs of seed and fertiliser, or offers the insurance through government subsidies. This keeps the cost of the insurance low for farmers. Farmers are compensated if their yields are below a certain level.

    Pula received support from the venture capital firm TLcom’s Africa Fund, which focuses on technology companies in the expansion stages. The European Investment Bank is a key investor in TLcom. The Bank signed a €10 million investment in 2016, and it is considering another investment to help more new African businesses. This investment is part of the Boost Africa facility that is funded by the European Commission.

    “It is important that we continuously develop symbiotic relationships with the smallholder farmers and take care of them, make sure they are in business,” says Kinuthia, the Pula manager. “This will help keep everyone in business. After all, agriculture is our backbone in Kenya.”

    A farm helper in Nakuru County, about four hours by car north of Nairobi.

    Inspiring transport change across Kenya

    Climate change, which has such a negative effect on small farmers, is also a big factor in the thinking behind the country’s flagship urban project — the new bus system and its all-electric line. 

    Nairobi’s roads are often packed and traffic crawls at peak times. There are few city buses, no trams or underground trains, and a skeletal rail service, so most people take private minivans or buses called matatus, or they use their own cars to get around. As the city’s population grows, congestion, travel times, noise and air pollution rise, too.

    “The government is really looking forward to improving the bus situation,” says Joseph Kochalle, a roads engineer with the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority. “It’s a hard, hard day to get home in Nairobi or plan your journey.”

    “The new bus transport network in Nairobi is going to help the metropolitan people, the economy, pollution and congestion a lot, because transport is a mess right now,” he says, sitting in a restaurant in the Westlands neighbourhood of central Nairobi, only a few metres from one of the city’s most hectic informal bus depots. “The new system also will inspire other metropolitan areas that are coming along, such as Mombasa and Kisumu.” 

    The five new bus lines in Nairobi will take the rest of this decade to complete. Planning started around 2014, so residents and transport officials are eager to speed up construction. Kenya hopes the new modern system and the electric line becomes an African example for efficient green transport.

    ‘A big step to help my life’

    One evening in central Nairobi, Carolyne Omondi stands warily on the side of a busy highway, waiting to start her long trek home to the Kibera informal settlement after a full day’s work. Cars, vans, lorries and heavy goods trucks pass close to her feet, as she searches for a bus. Like most commuters, Omondi waits in long queues and unsafe conditions to catch a ride on a matatu, which is often old, rickety and uncomfortable.

    Carolyne Omondi, waiting to catch a bus to the Kibera informal settlement in Nairobi, says it’s not easy getting home after work.

    “It’s not a good experience, especially when I’m returning from work,” says Omondi, a dental assistant in central Nairobi who lives in the Olympic Estate, a part of Kibera that is only nine kilometres away but takes at least an hour to reach through traffic and long bus queues. “You’re tired and you have to struggle to find a bus,” she says. “The people are so aggressive, security is not the best, there are pickpockets.”

    Omondi wishes she could spend less time commuting. It would give her more free time to pursue her goal of returning to school to become a dentist.

    “Better buses and transport,” she says, “would be a big step to help my life.”