The Genie in a Bottle: How Bottled Biogas Can Contribute to Reducing Kenya’s Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Growing up, I always dreaded to enter my grandmother’s kitchen in the village. She used firewood to cook: There was such a dark, thick smoke in the room that I couldn’t breathe or keep my eyes open. I really don’t know how my grandmother could spend hours and hours in there, every day, for so many years. And unfortunately, my grandmother is not an isolated case. More than 90 percent of Kenya’s population uses firewood, charcoal or kerosene for their daily cooking needs.

I always dreamed that clean sources of energy would make Kenyans more independent and less exposed to the serious health risks posed by fossil fuels. In rural areas, most women like my grandmother rely on firewood; its consumption not only depletes our forests but also emits hazardous smoke that causes indoor pollution and eventually respiratory illness. In areas where firewood is scarce, women have to use cow dung as fuel, an option possibly even worse in terms of pollution. Urban areas are affected too: The poor rely mostly on charcoal, another biomass that has the same negative effects and health risks of firewood.

Cleaner fuel options have already been developed but are often too expensive or too difficult to transport across the country to be adopted by a large part of the population, especially by the 40 percent of people at the base of the pyramid.

So what can be done? How can we make clean fuels more affordable and accessible?

I first heard about bottled biogas when I visited a “green” slaughterhouse in Kiserian, Kenya. I was really impressed: My dream of a cleaner, more affordable and easily accessible fuel was right there before my eyes.

The Keekonyoike Slaughterhouse found an innovative way to produce affordable biogas and package it for distribution all around the country. Using a special bio-digester, this business can turn blood and waste from a community-based Maasai slaughterhouse into biogas for cooking. To facilitate transport, the firm stores the fuel in recycled cylinders and used tires, reducing even further the environmental impact of the operation. Just to give me a better idea of the “green” potential of his business, the manager told me that this first biogas plant is expected to cut methane emissions by more than 360,000 kilograms per year (the equivalent of almost 2,000 passenger vehicles).

Indeed, “bottled” biogas (biogas compressed into a cylinder) has huge potential in Kenya: Farmers can directly produce it, recycling the waste from their farms; can use it for their cooking needs; and, thanks to the bottling process, can sell the excess on the local market, generating income while saving the environment.

The Genie in the Bottle

Keekonyokie is a company that began operations in 1982. It runs an abattoir that slaughters about 100 cows per day to meet the meat demand in Nairobi and its environs. In 2008, with the support from GTZ, the company constructed two 20-foot-deep biogas digesters that would help manage the abattoir waste, which was becoming a menace and a health hazard. Within a short time, the biogas being produced from the digesters was more than the company could absorb. The company managers started thinking of compressing and bottling the excess biogas, but they needed support to test the technical and commercial viability of their idea.

When infoDev’s Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC) opened its doors in October 2012, Keekonyokie was one of the first companies to be admitted.


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Economic Order Quantity Model with Innovation Diffusion Criterion under Influence of Price-Dependent Potential Market Size

International Journal of Innovation and Technology Management, Ahead of Print.

In last few decades various models developed under inventory control section whether of probabilistic or deterministic nature did not consider the effect of marketing parameters. The marketing parameters especially associated with innovation diffusion theory make the inventory models more realistic. In this paper, an inventory model has been proposed based on the explicit assumptions of interaction of marketing parameters to the optimal inventory replenishment policy. A time-dependent innovation driven demand has been incorporated in the basic economic order quantity (EOQ) model to know the realistic features of the model. This model assumes that potential market size is dynamic over time and is dependent on the price of the product. The model is illustrated with a numerical example and to know the effectiveness of the model a sensitivity analysis of the optimal solution with respect to different parameters has been performed.
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Finger millet genomics project to provide researchers with better tools for variety production

Finger millet is a staple food for South Asia and East Africa where it has been grown widely for thousands of years. The importance of finger millet as one of the solutions to food security cannot be underestimated considering the many uses of the crop in a farmer’s household. It is a source of food for many households across eastern Africa and beyond, used in brewing traditional beer and the straw as animal fodder. Such versatility makes finger millet an ideal food security crop.

Benta Auma Ochola from Siaya County, Gem District, Sagam area is a farmer who has embraced modern finger millet farming practices as well as improved finger millet varieties. On her four-acre piece of land at Marenyu sub-location, Benta farms maize, sweet potatoes among other food crops and keeps animals.

In 2012, Prof Matthew Dida a researcher on the sorghum and finger millet project from Maseno University in Kenya introduced her to finger millet farming and she has not looked back. That year she harvested 67 gorogoros (two kilogram tin farmers use when measuring grain) equivalent to 134 kilograms, on a quarter of five-acre shamba (land). In 2013 she increased land under finger millet to half an acre buoyed by the good yields from the previous year and harvested 80 gorogoros.

This year she wants plans on increasing acreage under finger millet as her yields gets better and better. “By selling one gorogoro at Kshs. 150 (Kshs. 75 per kilo equivalent to $0.87), I am making more money from finger millet than I used to do from maize,” Benta beamed enthusiastically.

Prof Dida who has been implementing this project has been educating farmers about modern farming technologies whilst providing them with high yielding finger millet varieties.

Benta has been planting Maseno 60D and P224 improved varieties. These varieties are superior over the traditional varieties as they flower in 60 days and are ready to harvest in 80 days compared to other commercial varieties, which take up to 120 days.

“Maseno 60D passed the National Performance trials in 2012/2013 and is currently undergoing DUS testing by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) before being released officially as a finger millet variety,” Prof Dida explained. “We plan on disseminating these varieties to as many as 10,000 farmers in Kenya and across the region.”

Benta’s story is one that can be scaled out to a wider community with significant impact. However, it has taken the researchers many years to develop these varieties, a situation that needs to change if we are to bring these agricultural innovations quicker to the marketplace to address farmers’ productivity challenges. The conventional breeding methods although effective tend to take a long time because they are not very precise. Modern tools including genomics would augment and hasten varietal development process.

In March 2014, Bio-Innovate Program initiated a finger millet genome sequencing project to complement the work on the identifying, developing and delivering millet varieties to smallholder farmers in the eastern Africa region project that has been on-going for the past three years funded by the Program.

Sequencing a genome in layman’s language is “decoding” a genome to understand what each gene does. This will be the first ever of such work ever done on finger millet. Genome sequencing will give finger millet breeders a map that can be used to easily locate and identify genes responsible for progressive traits in finger millet varieties to assist the breeding process.

Bio-Innovate has partnered with the African Orphan Crop Consortium to initiative the sequencing of finger millet genome. This initiative is being coordinated by The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT) regional team based in Nairobi in partnership with Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, University of California, University of Georgia (UGA) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).

The knowledge gained and molecular tools developed in this work will be transferred to breeders in the eastern Africa region to be routinely used in their breeding program. Finger millet has had low research investments and the genetic potential of this crop has not been fully exploited to address the productivity constraints affecting the smallholder farmers – especially drought and diseases, with productivity averaging 0.4 – 2 tons/ha against a potential of 5 – 6 tons/ha from research done in Kenya.

“The sequencing of the finger millet genome is important because it allows for the development of molecular tools to complement the conventional breeding currently used by the breeders.” Dr Allan Liavoga stated.

The combination of conventional and advanced technologies will lead to more efficient breeding process that deliver far superior varieties to the smallholder farmers in a comparatively shorter period of time. This is expected to significantly improve the productivity of finger millet and mitigate climate change, consequently enhance the competitiveness of this orphan crop – contributing to food security and improved livelihoods in East Africa with potential spillover effect in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Regional experts meet to discuss sustainable management of industrial effluent in East Africa

Regional experts meet to discuss sustainable management of industrial effluent in East Africa

On 19-20 May the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) of Ethiopia in conjunction with Bio-Innovate Program convened a two-day regional meeting in Addis Ababa that brought together environmental management regulators, high-level policy makers and industry owners and players to discuss and recommend enabling policies and regulations needed for efficient and sustainable industrial effluent management in the region. Participants were drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

At hand to officiate the opening of the forum was Ato Abdisa Yilma the advisor to H.E. Demitu Hambissa the Minister of Science and Technology. “The bioscience revolution, with its spectrum of application to improve agricultural productivity, environmental protection and human health provides new opportunities for economic and social development worldwide.” Mr. Abdisa said in his opening remarks.

“However, to grasp the benefits, Ethiopia as well as other countries in the region needs to adopt appropriate regulatory and policy incentives. The ministry of Science and Technology is committed to promoting clean technology for sustainable development.”

The ministry recognized that environmental problems require environmental policies and strategies that favor generation and adoption of green technologies in agriculture, energy and water resources use and management. He expressed the commitment of the Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Technology to work with the Bio-Innovate Program to take this agenda forward to ensure the environment is kept clean for many generations to come.

The meeting whose agenda was two-fold sought to identify opportunities and challenges of adopting new technologies and fostering innovation for industrial effluents management in East Africa; and develop a set of recommendations for enabling policy and regulations, including incentives schemes for uptake of innovations in industrial effluents management in region.

Seyoum Leta of Bio-Innovate used the industrial wastewater treatment and value addition consortium funded by the Program to contextualize the problem facing many industries in the region in fulfilling set rules and regulations in managing their wastewater.

“Industries in the Eastern Africa region are growing because of the opportunities and the conducive environment for investment. However, this growth, and more specifically the nature of the waste these enterprises produce aren’t matched with appropriate waste management technologies.” He indicated.

He revealed that there are more than 5,000 agro-processing industries in East Africa and only 10% of them treat industrial their wastewater to some degree, which often does not meet national environmental quality standards.

According to Dr Leta, lack of awareness has seen many of these enterprises install an oxidation or stabilization pond that can only treat effluent partially and does not reduce the level of toxins discharged to the environment.

“If we really want a treatment that complies with existing national standards, it has to meet all the discharge limits contained in a given environmental standards.”

“We are approaching different funding agencies within and outside the region to support the roll out of the waste treatment and value addition innovations that Bio-Innovate has developed in partnership with the private sector to industrial players across the region.

Participants of the Bio-innovate Regional Industrial Effluent Management Workshop
Participants of the Bio-innovate Regional Industrial Effluent Management Workshop.
(Photo credit: Bio-Innovate)

In his keynote presentation, professor Karoli Njau from the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, the lead for the industrial wastewater treatment and value addition consortium said that, “the condition of industrial effluents management in sub-Saharan Africa is terrible. You do not have to be a scientist to see this. If you go to any city in sub-Saharan Africa you will see poorly disposed solid waste and wastewater that is directly released into the municipal sewage or river systems without any form of pretreatment thus polluting our water resources. “

He pointed out various challenges that hamper industries from adopting effective effluent management Including the sizes and the economics of the industries, failure to enforce laws and also because such solutions are unknown to the end-users or perceived to be costly.

“We need to develop home grown solutions and technologies, that suite our unique environment and challenges. The problem with imported technologies is that they may not be sustainable and the after sales services may not be readily available and are often costly. The best option is to develop homegrown solutions hence building the knowledge base within and creating jobs. In addition, due to the initially high capital outlays need to install these technologies, the private sector should be incentivized to adopt these environmentally sustainable industrial waste management technologies.”

The forum invited several experts from the East Africa region to present the status of effluent management and existing policy framework in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia. These experts presented their finding which formed the basis for the two-day discussions.

The Program through the policy consortium aims at using the findings from the discussion to publish policy papers and briefs distilling the issues and making recommendations to inform policy change or improvement to support industrial waste management in the region.

You can find the meeting’s presentations here:

Photos from the meeting can be view here:

Listen to what four participants from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania had to say about the forum:
Interview of Enid Turyahikayo, Assistant Audit and Compliance Officer, NEMA, Uganda:
Interview of Flora Tibazarwa Director at Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), Tanzania:
Interview of Suresh Patel, Chemical Engineer, Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Kenya:
Interview of Margaret Karembu Director, ISAAA Africenter, Kenya:

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Developing a clean system for sweetpotato and cassava: A Bio-Innovate Program initiative

Developing a clean system for sweetpotato and cassava: A Bio-Innovate Program initiative

In most of Africa, sweetpotato and cassava are the staple food and nutrition security crops that play a key role as food security and income generating crops particularly when the mainstream crops e.g. cereals have poor harvests. Cassava is versatile and can also be used for non-food purposes. Extracted starch and other derivatives are used as sweeteners, food, paper, biodegradable products and pharmaceutical industries among others uses.

The FAO estimates global harvest in 2012 at more than 280 million tons. In Africa, NEPAD has prioritize the crop as a “poverty fighter” as cassava is resilient enough to grow successfully under various agro-ecological zones where cereals and other crops cannot flourish – making it a suitable crop for poor farmers to cultivate under marginal environments in sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa has the lowest productivity (10T/Ha) compared to Asia and Latin America at 19T/Ha and 12T/Ha respectively, and yet, there is more surface area on cassava in Africa (12 MHa) compared to Asia (3.5 MHa) and (Latin America (3.0 MHa). However, diseases like cassava brown streak virus disease (CBSD) caused by the cassava brown streak virus (CBSV) has devastated the crop reducing yields – in some cases decimating 60% of the crop.

That is not all. Access to clean virus free planting material is a challenge especially when farmers share diseased planting material from their yields, harvest after harvest. For sweetpotato, the International Potato Center defines the crop as the third most important food crop in seven eastern and Central African countries – outranking cassava and maize. It ranks fourth in importance in six Southern African countries and is number eight in four of those in West Africa.

The potential of sweetpotato crop to fight hunger and malnutrition in sub-Saharan African cannot be underestimated. Indeed HarvestPlus one of the Program’s partners has been working on orange fleshed sweetpotatoes fortified with essential vitamins and minerals to fight malnutrition. The crop hardly requires much involvement beyond planting and can be grown in areas with minimal rainfall. Diseases like sweet potato virus disease (SPVD) have greatly reduced its productivity. This situation is exacerbated when farmers share diseased planting materials.

However, the production of these two crops has been on the decline. The Bio-Innovate Program has in the last three years under its “Enhancing Food Security through Improved Seed Systems of Appropriate Varieties of Cassava, Potato and Sweetpotato Resilient to Climate Change in Eastern Africa” project been working on developing a clean, virus free seed system for cassava, potato and sweetpotato crop in eastern Africa in addition to developing drought- and disease-resistant varieties that are adaptable to specific agro-ecological zones. In Kenya, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Genetic Technologies International Ltd (GTIL), a micro-propagation private company producing disease and pest-free planting materials, Mimea International Limited a private tissue culture agribusiness firm and Wakala-Africa, a seed company marketing quality vegetable and field crop seeds, partners in this project, have undertaken several activities geared toward delivering clean planting materials to farmers.

KARI has been working with regional partners in this project to developed low-cost tissue culture protocols for farm level production of quality planting materials, and have shared improved technologies for cassava and sweetpotato with their Kenya-based partners and farmers through a 3-tier model.

Dr. Ruth Amata a senior research officer at KARI is taking lead in all these activities. She is generating improved varieties at KARI’s laboratories. The private sector partners then bulk (further multiplication) the clean planting materials and dissemination to small-scale farmers in the region.

How does this collaboration work?

Dr. Amata generates virus free sweetpotato and cassava planting material, which she transfers to GTIL to multiply. GTIL then bulks up the vines at their facilities to strengthen the vines for planting in the farmers’ fields. GTIL then sells the clean planting material to contact farmers.

According to Mr. Edward Mbugua an agronomist who works with GTIL, they have been able to provide over 500 farmers in central and eastern Kenya access to clean vines since November last year.

Moses Njiriri a farmer in Ndeiya, Limuru in the outskirts of Nairobi is one of the beneficiaries under the project. According to Mr Njiriri, through his collaboration with KARI he has sold clean planting vines to fellow farmers in his locality.

Why is it important to establish a clean seed delivery system for sweetpotato anyway?

The current situation is that over 98% of planting materials are disseminated through farmer-to-farmer exchanges and sale of cuttings in local markets. This becomes a problem because diseases are transmitted through infected plant material and cause losses of up to 70% of the crop, severely reducing yields. This creates a cycle, which is repeated, in each planting season.

To further consolidate the gains achieved in the last three years of implementing this project, Bio-Innovate held a meeting in March 2014 that involved Farm Concern International (FCI) an Africa-wide Market Development Agency in this collaboration. What does FCI bring to the table? Farm Concern is working with smallholder farmers organized into commercial villages to add value to cassava and sweet potatoes and find markets for farmers produce. According to FCI, the biggest problem that they have encounter while working with famers is that crop productivity of these crops is extremely low.

Even if markets are found for the produce, farmers will not be able to meet the market demands thus making it difficult for the value addition industry to consider these crops as reliable raw materials. FCI is tackling the productivity problem by impressing on farmers on the need to buy and use clean planting material and links them to private sector actors like Mimea and GTIL as a basis of livelihoods improvement through trade. Mimea International Limited will work with GTIL in multiplication of clean sweetpotato planting material and provided these materials to Farm Concern International (FCI) who will then tap into their huge network of farmers to sell these clean planting material.

Farm Concern International will participate in this initiative by leveraging its commercial village-processing project, and is funded to the tune of $144 million to acquire clean cassava and sweet potato seeds for these commercial villages for selected locations in both Kenya and Tanzania targeting over 75,000 farmers.

This inception meeting serves as a forum for the partners to share, discuss and combine previous achievements and activities in creating seed systems for sweetpotato. According to Dr. Allan Liavoga, Bio-Innovate’s Ag. Program Manager the success of this initiative – slated to end in December 2014, will be a model seed system that can be replicated in the region leading to a vibrant private sector driven micro-propagation industry and the famers have access to these materials.

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Genetic discovery to keep crops disease-free


Curtin University researchers have found a way to breed disease-resistant wheat with no downside, potentially bringing multi-million dollar savings to Australia’s agricultural industry.

According to John Curtin Distinguished Professor Richard Oliver, Director of the Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens (ACNFP) at Curtin, farmers can lose more than 0.35 tonnes per hectare in wheat yields to Yellow Spot, even after applying fungicide.

For an average-sized farm of 4000 hectares, this could mean an almost $500,000 loss to disease per year – or about $212 million worth of damage to the wider Australian agricultural industry.

Funded by the Grains Research & Development Corporation, Professor Oliver and his team, in conjunction with independent research provider Kalyx Australia, have demonstrated that by taking away disease-sensitivity genes from the wheat germplasm, pathogens find it difficult to latch onto wheat and cause damage.

“Our finding will help breeders produce crops in which disease losses are 60 to 80 per cent lower, and would be a real win for farmers – they will often be able to avoid using foliar fungicides,” Professor Oliver said.

“Before now, breeding for resistance to Yellow (Tan) Spot and Septoria Nodorum Blotch was very time-consuming – no molecular markers were in use.  The key has been to supply breeders with specific proteins (we call them effectors) that the fungi use to cause disease.

“For the first time, our technology allows for a steady and sustained improvement in disease resistance without affecting the farmer’s pocket.

“Furthermore, breeders are able to devote more time and resources to breeding for yield, as well as for rust and frost resistance.”

Using large wheat variety trials provided by Kalyx Australia, the team looked at yield loss of different cultivars (plants chosen for breeding because of desirable characteristics) when subjected to natural disease and stress pressures in the WA wheatbelt.

They compared cultivars with disease-sensitivity genes to cultivars that lacked these particular genes, and were able to show that the cultivars lacking the gene showed no yield loss and in some instances increased yields in the presence of disease.

From this, the team were able to conclude if a sensitivity gene was eliminated, there would be minimal associated risks and it would be a safe and straightforward strategy for improving disease resistance.

Professor Oliver said this research had never been done before as direct mapping for disease resistance had not led to useful molecular markers.

“Previously geneticists would infect plants that were progeny of crosses between relatively resistant and relatively susceptible parents before doing the QTL (quantitative disease-resistance gene) mapping. But as disease resistance is multifactorial due to the several effector reactions, the QTL mapping was always a bit fuzzy and was therefore never passed on,” Professor Oliver said.

“Our research looks directly at the loci that recognise the pathogens, which can be readily identified using a process we developed earlier, thereby bypassing the need for QTL mapping.”

The paper, Absence of detectable yield penalty associated with insensitivity to Pleosporales necrotrophic effectors in wheat grown in the West Australian wheat belt, can be found here.

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Ethiopia project component raring to produce mushroom, biogas and bio-fertilizer from coffee waste

Deep in the heart of the southwestern region of Ethiopia is Jimma city. Accessing Jimma by road is a 410-kilometre trip with picturesque scenery passing through the breathtaking rift valley, the endless acres of teff, maize and the undulating countryside.

Fifty kilometres in the outskirts of Jimma deep in the highlands are the coffee plantations. Coffee plantation Development Enterprise (CPDE) owns Limmu Coffee Plantation, which manages Gomma 1, Gomma 2, Kossa, Suntu, Gummer, Gojeb and Cheleleki plantations. The Enterprise owns has 11,182 hectares of plantation 70% of it under coffee. Owing to the massive tonnage of coffee processed in a season, these plantations also generate huge amounts of waste. The waste is categorized into husks waste from dry processing of coffee and pulp and mucilage from wet processing.

The plantation has attempted tried its best to manage this waste to minimize pollution and bad odors by constructing lagoons to hold the wastewater, utilizing husks for mulching and as fertilizer in the coffee fields, and using microorganisms for biodegradation. However, the plantation still has a problem managing the pulp; lacks the machines to take all the pulp to the fields and the face challenging managing waste during the harvesting and processing season due to overlapping of activities.

Short Term Ethiopian Coffee Production Strategy
Short Term Ethiopian Coffee Production Strategy (Source: Google)

Under the Bio-Innovate Program, Dr Berhanu Assefa from the Chemical Engineering Department at the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (AAIT), and a project leader for the Ethiopia component of project 4 approached CPDE to collaborate in finding solutions to their existing problems. The project team came up with the idea to cultivate mushrooms from the husks and the pulp and to produce biogas from the resultant remnants and make bio-fertilizers through a pilot-scale facility, which could later be scaled up to, service the entire plantation.

With a partnership agreement in hand, CPDE would provide a project site for the facility worth Birr 200,000 equivalent to $11,100. They would also provide water, electricity, the raw material (husks and pulp) and workers for the project. Through Bio-Innovate, AAIT would construct the pilot plants for mushroom and biogas, conduct research and provide technical backstopping, finance part of the operations at the plantation and train the plantation staff on managing the facilities. The Ethiopian component had an added advantage by working with CPDE. The enterprise produces their coffee without use of pesticides. They only use herbicides that are biodegradable. This is important because the project will produce edible oyster mushrooms using chemical free pulp and mucilage.

The mushroom facility under construction
The mushroom facility under construction (photo credit: Albert Mwangi) 

The pilot facilities at the plant are only four months away from commission where the project team will hand over the pilot facility to the plantation’s management to run.

The Program Management Team (PMT) was impressed by the remarkable progress made during their visit to his project site at Gomma and also appreciated the technological challenges at hand. The facility is envisaged to produce 1000kgs of mushroom every month to be marketed to a number of hotels and restaurants in Addis Ababa. The biogas facility will produce 25m3 litres of gas daily when it achieves it full capacity which will then be converted to electricity to augment the energy needs of the plantation.

“This collaboration with AAIT has opened our eyes to better opportunities in managing our waste. We want our plantations to produce the best coffee but at the same time protect the environment we work in”, Teferi Oljirra, Plantation Manager at Gomma 2 under CPDE, commented during the PMT plantation tour. CPDE is looking to replicate this innovation across all its plantations in Ethiopia. This will be important for the coffee industry to not only address environmental challenges but also add value that improves the competitiveness of these agro-industries. These technologies when ready can easily be out-scaled in other countries in the region.

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