Up&Ap: Eric Naivasha on driving Equity’s environmental conservation and Clean Energy use projects

This year’s World Environment Day was marked on Saturday June 6, 2021. Held under the theme “Ecosystem Restoration,” the occasion also saw the formal launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

As a responsible corporate citizen, Equity Bank, through the Equity Foundation, has committed to support the planting of 35 million trees countrywide in line with the Group’s efforts to conserve the environment.

To shed more light on Equity Group’s activities and initiatives geared towards environmental conservation and ecosystem restoration (this year’s theme), we conducted an email interview with Eric Naivasha (top), the Associate Director for Energy & Environment, Equity Group Foundation. Below are excerpts:

QUESTION: Give us a brief background about yourself and your career journey

ERIC NAIVASHA: I have over 20 years of experience in finance, six of which I was involved in financing of clean energy technologies and ecosystems. Before joining Equity in 2016, I worked in other senior positions including the Royal Dutch Philips as the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) Venture Manager for Africa, Managing Director at K-Rep Advisory Services in Kenya, Managing Director at Centre for Microenterprise Development (CMD) in Nigeria, Investment Director for Africa at Catalyst Microfinance Investors (CMI) and Regional Director for MYC4.

At Equity, I am the Associate Director, Energy, Environment & Climate Change Pillar at Equity Group Foundation. Under the Pillar we seek to improve clean energy penetration in Africa at the household level, institutional level and also at the commercial and industrial space around renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate smart agriculture, water, waste management, green buildings as well as environmental conservation through tree growing.

Q: Energy and Water is one of the Environment & Energy Pillars of Equity Group Foundation. What informed the decision to focus on the two?

EN: Energy and clean water are key resources at household, institutional, industrial and farm levels.
According to Global Citizen of the 783 million people who are without access to clean water, 40% live in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than 320 million people lack access to safe drinking water. In Kenya, more than 20 million people lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation, while more than 18 million Kenyans live without electricity.

Wood and charcoal are the primary sources of cooking fuel in Kenya estimated at 65% according to Kenya Household Cooking Sector Study. Institutions like schools are also heavy consumers of wood-fuel as is the tea industry where tea factories use firewood as the primary fuel in tea processing. This negatively affects the environment due to deforestation and carbon emissions as well as affecting peoples’ health due to Household Air Pollution (HAP). The Clean Cooking Association of Kenya (2019) estimates that 21,000 Kenyans die every year as a result of illnesses associated with HAP. Sadly, the prices these polluting fuels (kerosene, charcoal, and wood fuel) have been on an upward trajectory, increasing the cost of energy to households and institutions.

Kenya, under SDG 6 and SDG 7, committed itself to achieve by 2030 universal and equitable access to safe, affordable water and clean energy for all respectively. This challenge cannot be achieved by the government alone. The private sector must play a significant role by availing its infrastructure to support these initiatives.

The Environment & Energy pillar’s mission is to mitigate and address environmental impacts caused by economic activities by facilitating access of clean energy and WaSH solutions, increasing awareness of the benefits of adopting sustainable  use of resources by practicing climate smart agriculture, use of renewable and sustainable clean energy for cooking, lighting and heating for both domestic, institutional and industrial use. EGF strategically participates in environmental conservation initiatives such as tree planting, waste management & clean up initiatives, use of efficient technologies that reduces carbon footprint. Equity also provides debt financing to support clean energy transition and water access.

Q: As a follow-up to the above question, what projects, initiatives and activities has the Equity Group Foundation engaged in and so far supported, to address the issues around sustainable energy use and water conservation? 

EN: EGF has supported energy transition efforts at the household to reduce reliance on wood based fuels and help combat deforestation, improve air quality through reduced household air pollution from “dirty” fuels, cost savings from switching to more efficient energy sources, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as well as improved health outcomes.

EGF launched the EcoMoto Program, a unique model of financing clean energy products acquisition and a delivery fulfilment mechanism through the Agency network, to enable households to access clean energy for lighting and cooking purposes. Customers buy improved cooking stoves, LPG, Solar Home Systems and water tanks through a simplified loan product that can be accessed through mobile devices and orders fulfilled at selected agents and merchants countrywide. This was a first in the clean energy access and drastically reduces the loan acquisition time to less than 5 minutes for all prequalified customers. Other initiatives include:

  • Supporting learning and health institutions to transition from wood based to cleaner fuels like biogas, LPG and steam-based cooking
  • Designing and financing captive solar installations for institutions and industries especially grid tied systems as well as supporting industries to switch to more sustainable sources of heating to replace wood, coal and heavy industrial fuels
  • Supporting households and institutions with Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) through training and access facilitation through finance. Specific loan products have been developed in this area such as Maji loan (Water) and Jamii Safi loan (Sanitation & Hygiene)) loans to finance water storage systems, dams and water pans, piping, septic tanks among others. Maji loan has since been digitized to allow Equity customers to easily access the loan product either through the Equitel STK or the Equity Mobile App or by dialling *247#.
  • Climate Smart Agriculture to support farmers to adopt to climate change and build resilience through training and initiatives such as solar irrigation, productivity improvement and post-harvest loss management
  • Waste to energy initiatives such as financing farmers to acquire bio-digesters to manage animal waste and provide biogas for cooking. Equity togethers with its partners is also supporting large bio-digesters that can power farm machinery and provide household light, cooking gas and hot water while managing waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Equity also supports production of clean biomass fuel such as briquettes for institutional and industrial use.
  • EGF also supports the productive use of energy (PUE) around mini-grids, value addition in agriculture through solar PV.

Q: The 2021 edition of World Environment Day was marked on Saturday June 6 under the theme ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ which is clearly aligned with the Energy & Environment Pillars of the Equity Foundation. To mark the Day, which activities did Equity Group (and its staff) engage in to support this year’s event? Any partners you worked with to mark the Day?

EN: In line with this year’s theme of Ecosystems Restoration, we chose to mark World Environment Day by planting 65,000 trees to help conserve the Nyakanja Springs Ecosystem in Nyandarua County in Kenya. The spring is an important ecosystem supporting over 5,000 households with water for household use and farming. The initiative was led by our Ol Kalou and Nyandarua branches in collaboration with the County Government of Nyandarua. Simultaneously, several Equity branches planted trees in various locations across the country to mark the day.   In Nyeri, our Nyeri Kimathi branch in collaboration with the County Government of Nyeri planted 2,000 indigenous trees at Nairutia Vocational Training Centre. Ngara branch in collaboration with the Kenyatta National Hospital planted 2,500 assorted seedlings at the Kenyatta National Hospital.

Ecosystem restoration implies assisting in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed. It also includes conservation of the ones that are fragile but also, and more importantly, protecting the ones that are still intact. An ecosystem can be restored in many ways. Planting trees is one of the easiest and best ways of caring for the environment, but we also need to work very hard to eliminate pressures on the environment through the extraction of trees for wood fuel and charcoal. Therefore, as part of marking the day we encouraged households and institutions to transition to clean energy.

(ABOVE: Governor of Nyandarua County, Francis Kimemia  – right – alongside Equity Associate Director Energy and Environment Eric Naivasha – second right – and Equity Director of Marketing David Nyamu – second left – water a tree seedling at Nyakanja Springs in Nyandarua County. Equity Group partnered with the County Government of Nyandarua to plant 65,000 tree seedlings within the region in commemoration of the 2021 World Environment Day. The exercise is part of Equity’s 35 million trees treeplanting initiative in the Group’s efforts to conserve the environment, and in support of the government’s agenda to increase Kenya’s forest cover to 10% by 2022).

Q: Equity Group Foundation has previously worked with various partners to plant trees in various parts of the country in support of government’s goal to increase the country’s forest cover to 10% by 2022. What is the status of this initiative, and how many trees have so far been planted and in which parts of the country?

EN: Equity has been at the forefront of environmental conservation. Since we took up the initiative of planting 35 million trees to conserve nature, we have so far planted over 7 million assorted trees countrywide (in all 47 counties through our branch network and in collaboration with government institutions, private organizations, learning institutions, health institutions, prisons, individual farmers and in adopted forest blocks). The tree planting exercise is part of our strategic plan to drive sustainability and environmental management in recognition and support of the government’s 2 billion tree planting initiative to increase forest cover to at least 10% by the year 2022.

Equity and KFS partnered in the implementation of the Sustainable Livelihood Development Project (SLDP), funded by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The project empowered communities around the Mau Forest water catchment area in developing environmentally positive livelihood activities. Equity rallied support from like-minded partners to come together in conserving MAU Forest, which is the largest mountain forest in East Africa. MAU serves as a critical water catchment area for the country and is the source from which numerous rivers flow, many of them draining into bodies of water like Lake Victoria, which receives 60% of its water from Mau and is a source of river Nile that feeds many.

Equity and other partners have championed SAVE THE MAU TRUST INITIATIVE. The project was a partnership between Equity, East African Breweries, Nation Media Group, Kenya Wildlife Service, and the Green Belt Movement. The main objective of the project was to sensitize communities on the need to conserve the MAU Forest as well as spearhead a campaign that involves Kenyans in rehabilitating the Mau ecosystem. Equity branches also supported local communities in tree planting exercises and engaged in various interventions that benefitted the communities in their areas of operation. Over 1 million trees were planted in the area.

In May this year, Equity through its branches in Mombasa partnered with the County government to rehabilitate the mangrove ecosystem that has been threatened by human activities. The Bank planted 100,000 mangrove seedlings. These trees provide a self-maintained buffer against storms and high winds, thus reducing coastal and riverine erosion and helping in shoreline stabilization. They also act as a windbreaker and provide protection from saline intrusion for the agricultural hinterlands.

Q: Related to the above question, Equity Group has a 35 million trees tree-planting initiative as part of its efforts to conserve the environment in partnership with Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and accredited seedling vendors across the country. Give us the status of this initiative plus when the exercise is meant to be concluded.

EN: So far, approximately 7 Million assorted trees – exotic, indigenous and fruit trees – have been planted countrywide as part of the pledge to plant 35 million trees and in support of the  presidential directive to plant 2 Billion trees by the year 2022 to achieve 10% forest cover. The project is meant to be concluded tentatively by end of the year 2022.

Q: Any final comments related this year’s World Environment Day and Equity Group Foundation’s initiatives and programmes towards environmental conservation going forward? 

EN: Environmental conservation is the responsibility of many actors including government, private sector, development partners, the citizens, leaders etc. The private sector can provide its infrastructure and expertise to accelerate and scale programs and projects aimed at protecting our planet and our ecosystems. That is why at Equity, we have availed our infrastructure of branches, people, technology, and financial resources to reach many parts of our country with environmental conservation work. We create awareness and support communities in all the areas that we have a presence to plant and protect trees and transition to clean technologies and fuels. We have deliberately targeted learning institutions at all levels in environmental conservation, so that we can start creating future environmental champions by influencing young minds. Our approach is not only to plant trees with communities and institutions, but also to transition them into clean energy technologies and fuels. Other areas we are focusing on include renewable energy, energy efficiency, water harvesting and storage, green building, climate-smart agriculture, and waste management. All these areas support environmental sustainability.

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