Insufficient drying and inadequate storage remains a major obstacle to food security in the country. To tackle this, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology researchers led by Prof. Christopher Kanali, have developed a multi-purpose solar-biomass hybrid dryer for rural communities in the country under the Renewable Energy for Food Processing project.
The dryer, used for thin layer drying of agricultural produce such as bananas, cassava, sweet potatoes, traditional vegetables and cereal grains, reduces post-harvest losses and optimises food processing.
The research team dubbed, RE4Food team commissioned the first dryer in Khwisero, Kakamega County, April 20, 2017, under the Khwisero Integrated Community Umbrella Development (K-INCUD) group.
The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Mabel Imbuga in a speech read on her behalf by the Director of Production in the Research, Production and Extension Division Prof. Martin Obanda, lauded the initiative acknowledging its uniqueness in addressing food security in the country.
“The role of renewable energy in sustaining production and productivity especially in agriculture cannot be ignored. Today, both renewable energy and food security go hand in hand,” said Prof. Imbuga.
The Vice Chancellor also urged the county government of Kakamega to create a conducive working environment to upscale the project throughout the county saying it will reduce the menace of unemployment among the youth and fight food insecurity in the county.
The Principal Investigator, Prof. Kanali, said the project seeks to explore the opportunities and barriers to renewable energy for rural food processing as well as optimization of the processes to minimise losses along the value chain, while aiming for improved product quality.
Prof. Kanali said the hybrid dryer, apart from being cheap to run and environmentally friendly has a biofuel heater to supplement the solar energy for optimal use.
For the community, he said the dryer will be an income generating project that will enhance the livelihood of the people of Khwisero as envisaged under the social and economic pillars of Vision 2030.
K-INCUD Chairperson, George Etindi, acknowledged that post-harvest crop handling is a challenge to the community. “I have no doubt that the project will lead to enhanced value addition process significantly increasing agricultural productivity in the area,” he said
RE4Food is a collaborative project addressing research challenges associated with increasing food security and reducing reliability on fossil fuels. It has an international engagement focus and involves researchers from Newcastle University and institutions in Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone and South Africa as well as British NGOs read Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Department for International Development (DFID) and Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.
Other researchers involved in the project are: Dr. Eng. Gareth Kituu, Dr. Urbanus Mutwiwa, Dr. Joseph Mung’atu, Dr. Erick Ronoh, Eng. Samuel Njuguna, Mr. Micheal Kamwere, Mr. Livingstone Mulamu and Ms. Florence Kiburi all from the Department of Agricultural and Biosystem Engineering.