Farmers and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) in the coconut value chains at the Kenyan Coast have attributed lack of business skills, markets, value addition technologies; poor quality products and stiff competition from established processors and exploitation by Tanzanian brokers as major obstacles to the full exploitation of the coconut crop through value addition.
The farmers and coconut product processors from Kwale, Kilifi and Mombasa counties made the revelations during a three-day capacity building training organized by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology researchers – currently implementing the 5-year Manufacturing Research Chair programme on technological innovations for quality and productivity in the coconut sector.
The project is supported by National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), and the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), under the University Research Chairs programme.
The coconut stakeholders at the training held, May 13 – 16, welcomed the contribution of JKUAT researchers which they said, would greatly boost their capacity to tap the coconut resource available at the Coast for wealth creation and improvement of livelihoods.
According to the Research Chair, Prof. Bernard Ikua, who presided over the official opening of the training, “the manufacturing research chair is emphasizing on innovations for the coconut value chain with specific focus on various coconut products.”
The products include, “food and beverages, energy and biomass, textile and fibers, cosmetics and beauty products, tooling and machinery to support the manufacture of products.”
Prof. Ikua stated that JKUAT is strongly focused on improving productivity, efficiency and to lower production costs.” He further said, researchers conducted a survey at the grassroots that identified various challenges farmers and SMEs were facing including knowledge gaps which called for urgent intervention.
Hazina Waja Group
Prof. Ikua singled out the Hazina Waja – a women’s group SME based in Kwale that produces virgin coconut oil, lotions, soaps, shampoos and perfumes – initially had challenges guaranteeing consistent product quality.
He noted, the group had however made significant improvements following the interventions designed by the research stream leaders.
The Leader for the Social Economics Stream, Prof. Willy Muturi, from the School of Business, put the training in perspective, and urged SMEs to leverage on the training to improve their business enterprises through standardization, branding and marketing, occupational safety, record keeping, business finance, registration and planning.
Senior Officer at Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA)’s Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate, Mr. Teddy Yawa, lauded JKUAT for the training which he explained, “would enhance the capacity of farmers and SMEs to produce competitive quality products for wider markets.”
He said the potential of the coconut sector that currently stands at Ksh. 25 billion, was yet to be realized, with only Ksh. 13 billion exploited. Mr. Yawa called on county governments at the Coast to recognize the strategic position the coconut and cashew nut crops hold in unlocking the region’s economic liberation. Similar sentiments were echoed by the SMEs and farmers.
The coconut value added products include; virgin coconut oil, honey, soaps, detergents, shampoos, lotions, perfumes and an assortment of artifacts.
A farmer, Bendera Amiri, specializing in coconut and cashew nuts seedlings for his livelihood, decried the use of poor quality seeds by most farmers as a big challenge to the exploitation of the coconut sector. This is however, receiving attention. AFA is currently spearheading an initiative to supply quality coconut seedlings to farmers in the coastal region.
Hazina Waja Women Group from Kwale, said they started at low level of production before JKUAT researchers gave them a shot in the arm through invaluable expert support on business development, branding, marketing, and quality production. Today, the group has up-scaled production and is slowly becoming a force to reckon with.
Hamisi Mwakumanya, another beauty products processor and a beneficiary of JKUAT training many years back, admits, the skills he gained have been useful in mentoring other groups and individuals, citing Hazina Waja as one success story. However, he lamented that without processing machines, the quality of products is compromised.
Mwakumanya is not alone: Lucy Nasi Keya of Lola Rako Women group, who produces natural virgin coconut oil, says, “Wakati mwingine mchakato unaweza ukatibuka, ukaishia na rojo, badala ya mafuta ya nazi”. (Sometimes, the production process can abort, ending up with a thick sauce instead of the desired fine virgin oil product). Difficulty in accessing markets and poor equipment to upscale production remains her main concern.
The programme is billed to strengthen the coconut value chain in Kenya, given that the coconut crop is grown widely along the Kenyan coastline, but how to tap into its value-chain, has been a hard nut to crack, thus denying the country substantial economic returns through job creation and export earnings.
That is the elephant in the room that JKUAT researchers must confront and help the communities and the country reclaim the true value of the coconut industry.