Cracking the Nut: JKUAT Unveils New Technologies to Boost Coconut Value Chains

JKUAT team and their NOCD hosts, during a briefing meeting in the Director’s Office at NOCD, Mombasa.

The quest to upscale processing and production of quality coconut-based value added products by small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) at the Coast has received a major boost from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) researchers following the development of low cost gender-sensitive  technologies.

The simple to operate technological innovations – coconut dehusker, charcoal briquetting machine and a stirrer, were developed and fabricated by Manufacturing Research Chair’s Tooling and Machineries stream to strengthen the Coconut value chains in Kenya.

Dr. Florence Kaibi, Director of Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate (NOCD), acknowledged JKUAT researchers for developing the technologies – three (3) Dehusking machines and a Briquetting machine – to benefit four SMEs, namely; Lola Rako and Jophina women groups based in Kwale and Mombasa counties respectively, as well as Cocovita Limited and Msambweni Coconut Producers in Kilifi and Kwale.

Prof. Ikua (left) tries to dehusk using a crude equipment, while (right), a member of Msambweni Coconut Producers performs the same task using the new dehusker.

Speaking before handing over the technologies to the SMEs on October 26 – 27, 2020, Dr. Kaibi, termed it “a key milestone in coconut value addition. The technologies will enable SMEs to increase value addition. Up to date, processors utilize only 25% of the total available coconuts, leaving the country with an excess supply of an estimated 100 million pieces.”

She stated that “the coconut sub-sector supports more than 150,000 households and has the potential of contributing slightly over Ksh 25 billion annually to the country’s GDP.”

She noted that “There are about 10 million coconut trees in the country which yield about 300 million pieces out of which, 80 million are used for processing into coconut oils, coconut milk and desiccated coconuts.”

However, due to inherent challenges, the exploited value of the sub-sector currently stands at a mere Ksh 13 billion, translating into only about 52% of the potential GDP value of the Ksh 25 billion, Dr. Kaibi, said.

Left to Right: Mr. Myega, Ms. Langat, Dr. Kaibi watch as Prof. Ikua assists a member of Msambweni Coconut Producers to dehusk using the new technology.

Factors that have contributed to the low sub-sector GDP value include; low coconut tree population, high number of old and senile trees, pests and diseases, low productivity due to lack of improved varieties, low level of value addition, poor marketing of coconuts and coconut products and limited research on the crop.

“Although no breakthrough has been achieved so far in terms of development of improved coconut variety for successful transfer and adoption by farmers,” the Director was optimistic of better prospects,  pointing out current research initiatives by JKUAT researchers led by Prof. Aggrey Nyende at the Institute of Biotechnology Research.

She announced that “Last year, over 2,500 India-sourced coconut hybrid seedlings were distributed to farmers, noting it will provide local hybrid material for seed multiplication in the future.

Dr. (Eng)  Ndiritu  explains how the charcoal briquetting machine will help members of Jophina Women Group to exploit the coconut resource.

The Manufacturing Research Chair, Prof. (Eng) Bernard Ikua, said, the project’s main emphasis is “to develop innovations targeting diverse issues within the coconut value chains such as Food and Beverages, Energy and Biomass, Textile and Fibers, Cosmetics and Beauty Products, Tooling and Machineries to support manufacturing of products as well as Social and Economics.”

He said “the researchers had developed the technologies to help SMEs to improve productivity, efficiency and to lower production costs,” and asked them to upscale their production and share feedback on the equipment performance for further improvement.

Prof. Ikua, who is also the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Administration, further revealed that a Decorticating machine for fibre production is currently being fine-tuned before piloting, and asked NOCD to help in identifying which SMEs required which equipment.

The beneficiary SMEs expressed their gratitude, noting, the technologies will boost their capacity to tap the coconut resource to create wealth and improve livelihoods:

Lucy Keya of Lola Rako Women group tries to operate the dehusker after a demonstration by JKUAT. 

Lola Rako, a women group of 20 members processing natural virgin coconut oil, had, last year, cited poor equipment for coconut dehusking as their biggest challenge in upscaling virgin oil production.

Their Secretary, Lucy Nasi Keya, said, “The new technology is convenient for the women since it is less tedious and doesn’t require a lot of energy and expertise to operate, unlike the crude crowbar-like equipment they have been using, often leading to accidents and backache complications.”

Felista Yawa of Jophina said, the Briquette making machine will help them enhance the production of charcoal briquettes from coconut shells for the market.

JKUAT and NOCD teams handing over the charcoal briquetting machine to Jophina Women Group in Bamburi.

Hussein Myega, Chairman of the 25-member Msambweni Coconut Producers specializing in coconut seedlings, buying and selling of coconuts and mat-weaving, decried “lack of hybrid seedlings to replace the aging coconut trees, which he said, has undermined the exploitation of the coconut resource.”

Ms. Lily Langat, Teddy Yawa, and Ms. Florence Rono, all from NOCD, Dr. (Eng) Hiram Ndiritu, the Stream Leader, Tooling and Machineries, as well as JKUAT technologists, Bonface Kariuki, Peter Ngugi and David Nderi, engaged the SMEs on various issues to understand the challenges SMEs are facing and the required interventions.

JKUAT is spearheading a multi-disciplinary research team implementing the second national University Research Chair programme on “Technological Innovations for Quality and Competitiveness in Manufacturing of Coconut Value Chains,” supported by the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) and the Canadian International Development Research Centre.

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