Ice, Ice, Baby: how solar-powered ice-making could transform lives in Kiwa, Kenya

16th October 2018
This interview with Renewable World’s Regional Programme Manager for East Africa, Geoffrey Mburu, asks: what should we expect from Renewable World’s new ice-making project?


Hi Geoffrey, can you tell me a bit about the project?

This pilot project will begin in October 2018 in Kiwa, a remote island community in Lake Victoria, Kenya – they’re totally off-grid. We’ve worked with this community before and they’ve already shown great improvements with their agricultural yields and management skills, so it was a natural choice to work with them again. We are currently planning the installation of a solar micro-grid designed to power a community-owned ice-making business. This will sit alongside a cold room, which will store ice for sale to boost community incomes, health and well-being.

Who do you expect to benefit from this?

This project will be community-owned and community-managed, so we expect benefits to occur on multiple levels.

Firstly, the project has been designed to be owned and operated by women and marginalised, unemployed youth, thereby supporting the most vulnerable people in the community. This means there will be shared ownership of the resulting business, which should be capable of producing income for between 10-15 people simply from selling the ice created to community members that need it. Don’t forget, in remote fishing communities in Kenya, ice is an essential commodity that directly relates to people’s livelihoods – it can make their lives a lot easier.

Since we also expect the wider community to benefit from having greater access to a useful commodity like ice, we also expect wider benefits. For example, the fishermen and female fish traders will be able to store their catch for longer and preserve it en route to market, thereby protecting its value and improving profit margins. This will be the biggest impact of the project. Similarly, shopkeepers can also cool their soda cans to boost drink sales and vegetable producers will benefit from the cold storage system that will help to preserve their produce. In each case, the community can anticipate greater levels of income security and the improvement of lifestyle that accompanies this.

Lastly, there won’t just be a change in income. We want to target the most vulnerable members of the community with this project, meaning those who are especially poor or marginalised. We expect to see these community members grow in confidence as they upskill to work within the project.

That sounds really worthwhile. How will you identify the right people to bring aboard and what training will they receive?

We always work alongside the community right from the start. That means comprehensive consultations and interviews, as well as input from the Chief and community leaders. In line with Sustainable Development Goal 5 to empower women and girls, we want to include as many women, young or old, as possible.

In terms of training, it will be diverse. We will incorporate governance, entrepreneurship and financial literacy training that includes bookkeeping. We will also introduce cash flow planning with a focus on some practical limitations of the project, such as the lifetime of the batteries, which will at some point require replacing. So, we will work with the villagers to help them recognise these hurdles and orientate training to account for other similar challenges. We will also build capacity in other areas, such as transparency, accountability and any other areas we can add value, such as crop and seed selections that will maximise the benefits of this project.

It sounds highly technical.

That’s because it is. At the end of the day, these are projects that demand management for their long-term success and sustainability. We are installing technology that we expect to produce around 400kg of ice per day, alongside a small cold room to store it, so we are hoping that the social impact in a community like Kiwa will be significant. For the fishermen and fish traders I mentioned earlier, the ability to preserve their catch will save them around 50-100 Kenyan Shilling (£0.38 to £0.75) per kg – this really adds up!

I bet the community can’t wait. What excites you most about this project?

You’re right, the community can’t wait – this will have a huge impact from day one. More than anything, I am looking forward to seeing their lives transformed. Don’t underestimate the impact of going from earning roughly $1USD a day to around $3USD – families will be able to pay school fees and medical bills, it will really improve lives throughout the community at multiple levels.

Having worked with this community before, we know their needs. I know this project will change lives and I can’t wait to hear from households when we go to investigate the project’s impact.

Lastly, what are your long-term hopes for this project?

Well, I think you know that we want this community to flourish in the short-term. Beyond that, this ground-breaking pilot should give us some really useful knowledge for the future. Currently, we see no reason why this strategy can’t become a cornerstone of poverty-alleviation projects around Lake Victoria, including in Uganda and Tanzania. With developments in solar and battery technologies happening all the time, we are really excited at where this project could lead to in future and the social impacts it could have.

Geoffrey (pictured centre-right) as water began to flow in Renewable World’s earlier irrigation project with the Kiwa Women’s Garden Group.


Renewable World is grateful to the following for funding the Kiwa ice project: The Dulverton Trust, The Charles Hayward Foundation and United States African Development Foundation (USADF).

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