Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology has won a competitive bid to spearhead an ambitious innovation and technology transfer initiative aimed at fostering agro-processing in the coconut industry.
As a Research Chair on Technology and Manufacturing, JKUAT is expected to design and develop tools and machines for production and commercialization of coconut.
The coconut is a widely distributed crop along the Kenyan coastline, yet little research has gone into its value-chain; denying the country substantial economic returns such as job creation and export earnings.
Over ten by-products of immense economic value can be generated from the coconut fruit alone: The shell can be used to make bracelets, charcoal and mosquito coils. The husk is rich in fiber that could be tapped for the textile industry while also benefiting the agricultural sector as fertilizer.
Coconut water can be processed into a healthy drink or wine, while cooking and industrial oil can all be sourced from the meat.
Despite these advantages, sustainable production and commercialization of the crop has been hampered by poor technology leading to low yields and uncompetitive products.
Speaking during the launch of the Research Chair on Technology and Manufacturing on Thursday March 30, 2017, Higher Education Director, Dr. Jacinta Kopiyo, said the move was aimed at strengthening research capacity of local institutions for effective post-graduate training and technology transfer.
The Director thanked partners involved in the implementation of the programme, adding that the future of Kenya rested with the capacity of the country to leverage on Science, Technology and Innovation.
The Research Chairs Programme is a new initiative rolled out by National Council for Science and Technology (NACOSTI) in collaboration with Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), to strengthen Kenya’s transition into a knowledge economy.
NACOSTI Director General Dr. Moses Rugutt said the initiative was modeled on similar programmes around the world and funded by the National Research Fund, adding that the programme was an innovation by his agency aimed at delivering on the expectation of science, technology and innovation in Kenya.
IDRC Director, Simon Carter said that investing in knowledge and innovation is strategic objective of IDRC; hence the decision of the Center to build capacity of research institutions in sub-Saharan Africa towards realizing national and global development goals.
The JKUAT team will be led by the Principal College of Engineering and Technology, Prof. Bernard Ikua. The University was selected based on its proven track record on developing innovations that had been deployed in various sectors of the economy.
Besides fostering linkages between Kenyan universities and other socio-economic and actors, the programme also aims at attracting and retaining top scholars in the country and enhancing post-graduate training. The first University Research Chair in Kenya on Health Systems was awarded to Moi University in 2015.
Under the initiative, JKUAT will lead key institutions including Moi University, Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), Multimedia University. Private sector players in the programme include Linking Industry with Academia (LIWA), Centurion Systems, Kenya Private Sector Alliance, and National Machining Complex.