At the launch of the Global Nutrition Report at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, the Department of Home Economics at the Ministry of Agriculture presented an innovative way of baking cakes using cassava, sweet potato and maize flour.
However, when asked whether the products were available in the market, the baker who asked to be identified as Nakhulo, said that they were only for demonstrative purposes, but the idea had been shared with a few farmers to encourage value addition.
Despite the potential of the project to put more money in the hands of small-scale farmers, who produce more than 70 per cent of Kenya’s crops according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), there was no money to scale it up and roll it out to as many farmers as possible.
However, things are looking up, following a Sh500 million grant from the Swedish government, to be used to support scientists, researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs in eastern Africa to move their bio-based research and technologies from idea to market.
The ideas that will qualify for funding should arise from the use of biological resources like plants, animals, insects or microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi.
“Out of these, we can have improved or processed foods, medicines, kits for identifying plant and animal diseases or crops with improved characteristics, like tolerance to drought or resistance to diseases,” Dr Julius Ecuru, the programme manager, told Healthy Nation.
He added that for a long time scientists and researchers have been developing good products, but this has not translated into products that people can use in their day-to-day lives as food, medicine or cosmetics, or in the form of products that improve the environment. The fund is particularly interested in sorghum and millet, traditional foods that are drought-resistant and can be grown by millions.
“Adding value to these crops can boost yields and give small-holder farmers more income,” Dr Ecuru said.
The fund is also interested in the concept of the circular economy, which promotes recycling by encouraging the use of a resource in as many ways as possible.
This could mean re-using agricultural waste from industries, which is currently poorly managed and often goes to waste, when it can be used for other purposes that also save the environment from pollution.
“Waste water from slaughter houses or leather tanning industries has a high concentration of chemical and biological substances which pollute the rivers, lakes or swamps where they are discharged.
“We need better technologies to treat such waste to acceptable standards for effluent discharge. Moreover, this waste can be converted into useful products. For example, we can generate biogas from the waste treatment process, or we can process and use the waste as feed for animals or as manure for our gardens,” Dr Ecuru explained.
Interested parties from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have until 2nd June to apply for a grant from the fund called BioInnovate Africa Programme. The grants will be administered by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) headquartered in Nairobi.
To benefit, applicants need to be affiliated to universities, public research institutes, firms and government institutions as a way to promote learning and innovation.
The beneficiaries will be taught how to involve policy makers and lawmakers while developing their ideas to help them understand the policy implications and the importance of science to society.