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Entrepreneurship and smart farming practices in arid and semi-arid areas; for the community and with the community.

Built on Project NGELE (education, farming practices and entrepreneurship) in Voi, Kenya, we want to expand the program for other areas.

Photo of Vilhelm Skjærpe
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Our idea is to give youth education and training over 14 months including basic computer training, good business practices, entrepreneurship and vocational training. Also, we also give them a goat. We keep the goats in a farm. The students go there twice a month to learn about goat keeping and agricultural practices. After graduation, they receive the goat and its offspring minus one goat, which stays in the farm for the next student. This give the students an important and necessary foundation for starting their own small business or employment. We aim to break the circle of poverty. The first class graduated in July 2016. Many of them now have work. Our program is done in cooperation with the Matokeo Women’s Group (CBO). The farm will generate work for more people. In arid areas, water needs to be used smart. Hydroponics fodder production can produce fodder using less than 1/3 used for growing in soil. In arid areas, people spend a lot of time looking for water and taking goats for gracing. With Project NGELE, we add hours. The goats stay close, the water is there and the people will work at the farm to enlarge production for the local market. We are also starting to grow vegetables and fruits. We are fencing 2+ acres for this. We built a 65,000 liter water tank and a worker’s house. For now, we buy water, but our aim is to be able to drill a borehole. Currently, we employ 1 person full time at the farm, in addition to paying construction workers.


Project NGELE was set up for single young mothers and widows. Now we will also include boys. They will all benefit from the education program and from smart farming practices. The benefit is that they will have enough training to start up a small business or to be employed. Many youths in rural areas do not have this. Smart farming practices have a big potential for generating work and entrepreneurial ideas. These have to be developed on the ground, first based on the local markets.


We are a NGO registered in Norway and a CBO in Kenya. Web: Our funding has come from ourselves, family and friends. We started in 2013 with giving a sewing machine to the Matokeo Women’s Group. Then, a classroom and computers. Project NGELE started in 2013. The farm started in 2015.


  • Kenya


  • Yes, for more than one year.


  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for over a year

Entrepreneurship and smart farming practices in arid and semi-arid areas

Background information

Project NGELE

Project NGELE was born out of a wish to help. I learnt from my late father that helping is not financial aid, but knowledge. He built a school in Ethiopia, finished in 1972. The school is still there, in Arba Minch. The legacy of his ideas has inspired us.

Our team is basically Rachel Mwakazi Skjaerpe and Vilhelm Skjaerpe (wife and husband). Rachel is Kenyan and Vilhelm is Norwegian. We live in Norway but frequently visit Kenya to deliver training and follow-up on the project. Our operations are at this stage in Voi town, Kenya.

Since we started funding and assisting the Matokeo Women’s Group (MWG) in 2011, this cooperation has become an integral part of Project NGELE. MWG is a registered Community Based Organization (CBO), based in Voi. After helping to supply an embroidery machine in 2012, the MWG broke out the debt cycle and started to grow. We helped build the first simple classroom in 2013, and in 2014 the World Bank (through the Kenyan KCDP program; saw the progress and decided to fund a small school building.

KCDP representative (middle) hands over the certificate to a proud student at the Matokeo school. Matokeo Women Group director Josephine Mwakazi to the right.

The start-up region

Project NGELE operates out of the Voi/Mbulia area in the Taita Taveta province. The area is arid/semi-arid and the rural population rely heavily on farming for survival. Because of the climate, most farmers are kept in deep poverty. Many youths move to the town of Voi to search for better paying work. But there is little work to be found.

Even if the area is dry, farming land is very fertile. Lack of water is the biggest problem.

The NGELE farm in the Mbulia area, 30 mins drive from Voi town.

The NGELE vision

With Project NGELE, ManGo Development see the Project NGELE idea and concept being duplicated in other regions of Kenya and outside. Already we have interest from a region in Burundi and the Social Services Office of Voi sees Project NGELE as an invention that should be introduced throughout Kenya.

For this to be possible, the Project NGELE needs to be adjusted to local social demographics, climate and traditions/cultures. The basic concept though, will be the same: Education, vocational training and farming practices, IT-skills, entrepreneurship and business concepts – and motivation.

Short and long term goals

Short term goals:

1 - Complete the remaining structures of Project NGELE in the Voi/Mbulia region:

  • Fencing 2+ acres of agricultural/housing land. The work is already in progress.
  • Installing a drip irrigation system from the water tank into the fields (already planned and prepared for).
  • Install a program for motivating and mentoring youth in embracing agri business.
  • Building a goat house for up to 100 goats. We already have a traditionally built goat house.
  • Designing and setting up an expandable hydroponics production construction for growing barley, for goat fodder. A pilot phase has already been executed. One person has already received basic training in hydroponics.

2 - Drilling a borehole at the NGELE farm in Mbulia.

Long term goals:

  • Introducing the Project NGELE to other regions inside and outside Kenya.
  • Expanding the education and training out of the MWG school in Voi; including extending the school building with one more classroom and toilets.
  • Research in using dew collection methods in farming in arid areas.
  • Research in using audio technology to alert elephants of bees. The Elephant threat to farming is very real in rural areas of Kenya – close to the national parks. We want to secure the livelihood of both farmers and wildlife. Using modern technology to secure safety for both should be investigated.
  • Combining “NGELE farms” with eco-tourism.
  • Inviting research on the Project NGELE and the farm concept for further enhancement of concepts of empowering youth in East Africa.
  • Value addition to the produce; farming produce, milk, goat skin etc.

Project NGELE design

Overview - involvement

Rachel Mwakazi Skjaerpe designed Project NGELE after researching young mothers needs and sociological “mechanisms” on the local arena. She interviewed a lot of young women in the Voi region to find out why and how they are bound in poverty. The Story of Ngele video explains main issues in this. Rachel is presently following a master study in “Innovation and rural development” at the HLB agricultural college in Klepp, Norway.

Rachel Mwakazi Skjaerpe of ManGo Development (top left) in session with young single mothers in the early research phase of Project NGELE, 2013/14. Pastor David Zowe (top right) is translating to the local language.

Project NGELE is designed to introduce necessary change making factors like education, training, awareness and motivation to the participating youth. In the project, the goat is the portrait of this. There are of course other change makers. Education, awareness building and motivation.

The NGELE farm was then established to enable a commercial outcome in understanding business principles and business training. The farm will naturally focus on farming, but the teaching and training will be relevant to any business idea, and create an atmosphere and basis for innovation. The participants will receive the basic ideas and understanding of what entrepreneurship is and means, and of business concepts.

Ultimately, our goal is that the students will start their own business or invent new businesses. In agriculture, the region we work in is relying on methods and traditions transferred over hundreds of years. Our project will challenge this, not with super modern technology, but with education, training and innovation. We must start where the community is – their concepts and thinking – and build from there. It is a journey (safari) we have to make together.

Our operation so far has been to connect the teaching at the MWG school with the NGELE farm. The farm is situated in Mbulia, a 30-minute drive from Voi town. The students at the school receive a goat to tend to at the farm. They go to the farm twice a month to learn about goat keeping. The program includes knowledge of feeding, vaccination, breeding and fodder production (hydroponics methods), and ideas on value addition of farm products.

Gender equality and inclusion

Project NGELE has so far been targeting young single mothers and widows, but our aim is to involve also boys as our project grows. One of our other projects; supporting a special unit for the hearing impaired at the Mwanyambo primary school in Voi, include both girls and boys. The unit is called the Silent Voices. A few of them has also participated in our basic computer training course at the MWG school. One of the girls from the special unit now has a job at a local dressmaker.

Youth as change agents

The statistics tells us that the youth is our main focus in Kenya, and probably in East Africa as a whole. We need to build confidence in them, motivation, education and basic skills – and work with them through their challenges on the way. It is not we that will find the solutions, but they. Our Project NGELE is designed to foster, inspire and promote such initiatives.

Portrait of Yusuff, taken by Hussain, both trained in photography by Vilhelm of ManGo Development.

Already, ideas have been introduced from the youth. We needed a way to oversee project progress form Norway. Pictures, video – documentation. Through good donors, we were able to supply professional camera equipment to youth in Voi. Now, they document project progress and at the same time, they use the cameras to further their own businesses. The camera equipment is held by the MWG and photographers sign out equipment based on rules. Non-profit work is free, for commercial work, a fair rental is paid to MWG. This is now in motion. The MWG probably has the best photo/video equipment in the Voi region.

Skills that match markets

This is a key concept in Project NGELE. You can hardly survive selling products or marketing ideas or services that the community/market does not ask for. That does not necessarily mean that they don’t need them.

This is where innovation or change can make or break. Too early, too technologically “outside the traditions” or: not acceptable. We need to work with the communities, the cultures and the local conceptions of practices regarding gender equality, corruption, environmental issues or farming practices. Education and being on board the project from the beginning is essential to achieve not only skills, but also a deeper understanding and awareness. This has to do with follow-up and advising along the way; everything from repeating sound business conduct, basic accounting principles and the need for transparency.

Transition design

Project NGELE is designed to give:

  • Education; entrepreneurship, business practices, transparency, basic computer skills
  • Vocational training; currently dressmaking/tailoring
  • Goat keeping; good practices including knowledge of goat races and breeding, vaccination, nutrition/feeding
  • Farming; including hydroponics fodder production method
  • Irrigation methods that require less water
  • Employment
Penina (behind) from the Matokeo school, doing her dressmaking internship at a local dressmaker studio.

Employment is the ultimate product out of Project NGELE. Our aim is that the youth will have enough education and training to start their own business or to be hired to work for others. Project NGELE itself has already given part time work to some. This is in construction work, photography and farm work.

Long term safety and security

Project NGELE at its core, is to be a change maker. The education and training at the Matokeo Women Group gives the students a formal certificate, recognized by the regional authority of education.

Our aim is that the diverse training they receive over 14 months, is enough to understand how poverty circles are broken. Over 14 months they also experience a wider understanding of learning as an enabler, business conduct, team work, fortitude and sustainability.


Sustainability is a key element in the Project NGELE design. Project NGELE is not aid, it is an enabler and a change maker project. Any outcome has to be sustainable to be successful. Regarding young girls, this include discussing and motivating them how they can keep the business or job when they enter into marriage. There are cultural issues that needs to be addressed with interaction.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Deborah Nyambu

Great job you are doing right there, Vilhelm Skjaerpe...keep up the good work of fostering change agents in Voi!

Photo of Vilhelm Skjærpe

Thank you Deborah. It is amazing to see all the ideas being generated to inspire and making change happen.

Photo of Deborah Nyambu

Truly inspiring...

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