Courtesy of Nation.Africa
Imagine one department in a financially troubled university saving the entire institution from sinking in debt through innovation, research and technology.
Imagine joining a public university as an undergraduate student and leaving four years later with an innovative enterprise that allows you to become an employer instead of a job seeker.
Well, this is now possible thanks to Egerton University’ little known Centre of Excellence for Livestock Innovations and Business (CoELIB).
The Nakuru-based institution is enduring arguably its worst financial period in decades, which has seen it accumulate Sh3.3billion in debt.
This situation has attracted the attention of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), and the institution has been put on the corruption radar watch amid fears of gross mismanagement of public finances.
The financial rot is so bad such that lecturers’ salaries were abruptly slashed by 40 per cent, disrupting the 43rd graduation preparations in December last year as dons downed their tools.
But what is CoELIB?
It is a programme domiciled at the Department of Animal Sciences at the Njoro Campus that has been helping students, teaching and non-teaching staff explore their passion in businesses.
The programme employs innovation, research and technology to nurture life skills among young graduates so that they can transform their lives. They do this by changing their participants’ approach to agriculture as well as encouraging them to develop innovative enterprises.
The centre hosts the CoELIB Incubar – an agribusiness incubator in the livestock value chain, a teaching and learning centre, a studio where participants can acquire and advance their skills in photography, videography, broadcasting and music production, the African Dairy Academy that hosts the African Dairy Sciences Network (DairyNet), and the Knowledge Centre for Agriculture (KCA) which provides agricultural information and advice to farmers.
It also hosts a Mushroom Spawn Production Unit, a Demonstration Apiary, a Dairy Cattle Zero Grazing Unit, the Dairy Goat Improvement Centre, an Indigenous Chicken Improvement Unit and a Livestock Feeds Mushroom production.
The centre also offers information, technical assistance and consulting services to meet the needs of various stakeholders. The project was founded in 2008.
“We were granted Sh3 million by the Dutch government through the Netherlands Organisation for International Co-operation in Higher Education (NUFFIC). We utilised the money well and we received additional funding from the European Union and launched an agribusiness incubation centre,” said Prof Alexander Kahi who is the brain behind the vibrant project.
Prof Kahi, who is also Egerton University’s deputy Vice-chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs, says that one of CoELIB’s biggest achievements was when its participants helped the university successfully host a live graduation ceremony late last year.
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A traditional ceremony would have cost the cash strapped institution about Sh10 million to organise, but with the virtual event, only Sh4 million was needed. This was a huge relief for a university that is knee deep in debt.
The centre has extended its empowerment programme to students in other public universities including Laikipia University, Moi University, Jaramogi University Science and Technology and Kisii National Polytechnic.
Through CoElib, Egerton University has attracted various other forms of support. Last year, the World Bank sent a delegation to the centre on a benchmarking tour as they prepared to fund a project dubbed Africa Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture and agribusiness Management (CESSAM) at the institution.
The growth of the CoELIB Incubar has been attributed to the rise in demand for incubation services among the youth. They have so far incorporated more than 23 enterprises owned by young Kenyans into the programme.
Some of the enterprises include LongBurn Sustainable Solutions, a company that produces long-burn charcoal briquettes, Sylvia Nyaga’s SyNa Company that develops portable eco-toilets for the physically challenged, Udder Limited by Felix Akatch focusing on dairy farming, and Agrisove Data World which develops mobile apps, web apps and USSD services.
Another company incubated at the centre is The Plotus Technologies that has developed an automated Incubrooder that provides optimum conditions for brooding thereby improving the growth rates of chicks.
The company is owned by Samwel Mwangi and has attracted the attention of county governments that are working with farmers to improve poultry farming.
“This is a good example of how research can be used to create solutions to the problems facing poultry farmers,” explains Prof. Kahi.
Plotus Technologies Company has also invented a robot that can be used to cut sheet metals using high velocity electrified air. This robot is meant to be used to manufacture the Incubrooder.
Job Nyabuti, who runs an enterprise that deals with the production and supply of button and oyster mushrooms, says that CoELIB Incubar equipped him with entrepreneurship skills that have seen his business grow exponentially within six months.
“We believe that ever young person has a unique business idea. Our objective is to transform those ideas into reality,” says Prof Kahi.
By venturing into events coverage, production of TV Programmes, offering live streaming services and events photography, CoELIB has now become a key marketing tool for the university which has been in the public eye for the wrong reasons in the past four years.
CoELIB Media strives to perfect Agri-journalism through periodic production of agricultural documentaries that promote best practices from Kenya and beyond.
Some of its alumni include Moses Irungu, a 26-year-old producer at CoELIB Media whose short film on anti-FGM won him an award.
“I joined Egerton University to study animal science but since I had a passion for journalism, I was trained in agriculture journalism and film production,” said Mr Irungu who is an audiovisual content producer currently undergoing a one-year training at Multichoice Kenya.
Ms Nduta Njoroge is pursuing film production at Filamu Juani Academy in Nairobi and says her media skills were sharpened at CoELIB.
Apart from shooting and producing the virtual graduation ceremony, the centre was also involved in the virtual orientation of First-Year students. They also support online learning, with the biggest beneficiary being students of the School of Open and Distance Learning.
To grow its revenue streams, the centre has opened a coffee shop and invested in branding machines. They also have more than 20 dairy cows, over 50 dairy goats and an apiary which generate income.
Prof Kahi attributes the success of the centre to transparency and accountability especially with regards to the finances at their disposal.
“We pay staff and students on scholarship stipends of up to Sh800,000 every three months. Our staff salaries were never delayed even during this pandemic.
Funding remains the project’s biggest challenge, as they depend solely on donors, which may not be sustainable in the long run.
“I urge the national government to set aside funds to run the project as it is immensely contributing to the Big Four Agenda where youth development is key,” said Prof Kahi.
CoELIB is establishing a research grant to raise the funds necessary for supporting research projects by Egerton University researchers and scientist in priority research areas.
The centre started with about five workers but today as it has nearly 100 staff on its payroll.