Rift Valley Institute at the forefront of pursuing SDGs
University World News spoke to RVIST leaders to find out how the institution has gone about foregrounding climate change mitigation in its daily activities and prioritising the implementation of the SDGs – efforts that have earned the institution gold in the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP) awards in the SDG category earlier this year.
“In a bid to achieve a green environment, our institution currently uses solar energy to run about 40% of its infrastructure,” Sammy Chemoiwa, the principal of RVIST, told University World News. “Our boreholes, streetlights, offices and classrooms, which are among the most-used facilities in the institution, all use solar energy.”
Learning institutions are characterised by their large populations, both students and staff, who need access to various amenities in their daily activities. RVIST has about 11,000 students and, for it to be able to commit such a huge percentage of its energy requirements to a renewable power source suggests a firm commitment to conserving the environment.
“We are also currently exploring the possibility of employing geothermal energy to run all our major activities, which include vegetable and cereal drying, aquaculture, greenhouse farming and milk pasteurisation. They all require a lot of energy to operate, and geothermal energy is the safest bet in ensuring carbon limitation,” Chemoiwa explained.
RVIST is located in the Rift Valley, Nakuru County, Kenya, which is the main hub for geothermal energy production in the country.
The Great Rift Valley is a series of trenches, 7,000km long, running all the way from Lebanon in the Middle East, to Mozambique in East Africa, threatening to split Africa in two. It is this process of splitting that causes the formation of geothermal energy which the current generation is happy to tap into for its energy needs.
Geothermal energy is, therefore, an environmentally friendly renewable energy from within the earth that has zero carbon emission and is abundant in the Rift Valley. Kenya is ranked seventh in the world as a geothermal energy producer.
The Olkaria power plant in Nakuru is the country’s largest geothermal power producer, which makes it logical for RVIST to take advantage of its strategic location by training its students to use geothermal energy to power its activities. The Menengai I geothermal power station is also under construction in Nakuru.
By tapping into solar and geothermal energy use, RVIST are contributing to SDGs 7 (affordable and clean energy) and 13 (climate action).
Women and children
RVIST has also partnered with Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (CSAYN) which is a major contributor to sustainability through its climate-smart and sustainable agriculture practices. CSAYN focuses on empowering youth and women through agriculture – a key factor in realising the SDG goals.
“CSAYN and the United Nations are among our major partners who teach us useful skills that we can use in the fight against climate change. RVIST actively takes part in CSAYN’s 13 flagship projects,” said Chemoiwa.
He listed the focus areas the institution pays special attention to:
• Women in agriculture for a sustainable Africa;
• Africa youth for SDG training;
• A virtual academy training youth in climate resilience and climate-smart agriculture; and
• Children and youth in agriculture climate finance.
“Women and youth form the majority of the vulnerable and marginalised groups in Kenya and Africa, at large, making it necessary for them to be empowered if we are to achieve the set SDGs,” he said.
“For instance, the skills that our students have learned can further help them enlighten their families and their communities to boost food production in their areas. And a hunger-free society is part of the SDGs.”
An example is RVIST’s tree-planting programme in Baringo County, where it trains women and young people on how to raise seedlings.
“We train women and youth from marginalised communities on how to identify suitable seeds and trees that they can plant in their environment during the rainy season,” Chemoiwa explained.
The Rift Valley is a major agriculture zone in Kenya, hosting some of the largest dairy production plants, irrigation centres and crop production farms. Knowing that most of the people in this region are farmers, RVIST engages in a lot of agribusiness forums where they get to teach farmers on various climate-smart agricultural practices.
Kenya’s annual Agri-business Expo also uses RVIST as its host, to which farmers come from across the country to engage in meaningful discussions, demonstrations and exhibits meant to impart useful agricultural practices.
The institution has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Kenya Electricity Generating Company, or KenGen, a move that, it says, will give its students a hands-on approach in research on sustainable energy solutions.
KenGen is the country’s largest electricity generation company, responsible for 60% of the power supply. It is currently exploring ways to move from diesel-run generators to produce electricity by investing more in geothermal power production (Olkaria and Menengai geothermal power stations).
“The climate is ever-changing and current technologies can’t seem to keep up with its demands. Climate-smart technologies must, therefore, be embraced in order to protect the future,” Chemoiwa said.
RVIST has also partnered with the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, and the county government of Nakuru to help with climate-change mitigation programmes.
Partnerships, according to SDG 17, are necessary to enable an easier path to a sustainable future, especially for developing nations.
According to Chemoiwa, the institution aims to raise one million tree seedlings by the next financial year, out of which it plans to sell 60% and donate the remaining 40% to the local community as part of its effort to help the government plant 15 billion trees over the next five years.
“We have a tree nursery programme that enables us to cater for trees that we are later able to plant within the institution and the areas around us,” he told University World News.
“From the nursery, we are also able to donate trees to other schools, NGOs and government organisations that are trying to embrace a green culture. We also donate trees to the local communities around us and have sensitisation programmes by which we get to create awareness on the importance of conserving the environment.
“Other technologies the institute is working on are the use of climate-smart seed varieties and bio-fortification.”
As a reward for its effort, RVIST was awarded gold in the SDG category during this year’s World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics awards.
The WFCP is a global network that enables regional and national associations of colleges to meet up once a year and celebrate each other’s achievements on the same platform.
This year’s WFCP awards took place in April in Montreal, Canada, an event attended by more than 700 delegates from 50 countries. RVIST was the only African institution to bag a gold medal.
While the institution was awarded gold for its contribution, it was only logical that its driver, Chemoiwa, received a fair compensation for ensuring that everyone remained steadfast in their roles to strive for a future worthy environment.
Chemoiwa was awarded gold in the Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion category.
In 2022, Chemoiwa’s immediate predecessor, Dr Daniel Mutai, received a bronze medal in the same category, a fact that goes to show how committed the school and its leaders are in meeting their set targets.
This year, Mutai received silver in the Lifetime Achievement Award. He will also go down as the first-ever Kenyan to have won the Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion award.
Importance of TVETs emphasised
According to Mutai, these awards are an indication of just how big Kenyan TVETs are in the global arena and why the government needs to continue with its support in ensuring their growth.
Mutai explained that an overemphasis on university education led to many white-collar professionals lacking the blue-collar skills needed to actualise their ideas.
He said there was a shortage of plumbers, masons, painters and electricians in the country, and these were well-paying jobs.
“TVETs are important in ensuring the country gets to meet its social and economic needs. They offer hands-on skills that are needed in promoting research and industrialisation, thereby giving the youths the ability to even gain self-employment.
“Any country that fails to promote its TVETs will end up outsourcing jobs such as masons, plumbers and electricians, which will eventually leave its youth unemployed,” Mutai said.
Other institutions from Kenya that were represented in the WFCP ceremony were Nairobi Technical Training Institute, which received a bronze in the Applied Research and Innovation category, while the Kenya School of TVET also was awarded bronze in the Teacher Professional Development category.