The European Union (EU), through the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), has awarded a team of five researchers from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) research project funding totaling Kenya Shillings 31 million.
The project, entitled “Upgrading of Silver Cyprinid (Rastrineobola argentea) value chain through multi-stakeholder partnerships and novel climate-smart postharvest processing technologies and practices for improved rural livelihoods,” is among the 11 projects competitively selected from 150 submitted proposals by researchers in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.
It will be implemented by a multidisciplinary team comprising Prof. Nelson Ojijo (Department of Food Science & Technology), Prof. Christopher Kanali, Dr. Eric Ronoh, Eng. Gareth Kituu, and Eng. Samuel Njuguna (all from the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering).
The JKUAT pentad, in collaboration with the other consortium members – Kenya Marine & Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI), JKUAT Enterprises Ltd (JKUATES), and Kisumu and Busia Beach Management Units – seeks to boost the economic value of silver cyprinid fish, locally known as Omena, through a two-pronged approach – preventing post-harvest loss and promoting its consumption.
Omena is an important source of livelihood because it constitutes the bulk of the fish catch from Lake Victoria, according to Prof. Ojijo, a Food Technologist and the project’s lead researcher. However, due to microbial spoilage arising from poor drying conditions and high ambient temperatures, nearly half of the fish landings at the beaches go to waste, prompting overfishing to compensate for the loss.
To address this issue, the project will produce two machines. The first is a charcoal-powered portable cooling machine, which will enable the immediate preservation of the fish, while the second is a solar-powered drying machine, which will facilitate fast drying of the fish regardless of the weather and therefore prevent microbial growth.
The project will also focus on value-added processing into various novel products to promote the consumption of this fish variety, particularly among the youth with high nutritional demands.
Notably, the project is committed to collaborating with locals around the Lake Victoria beaches in order to create solutions that will be adopted and thus ensure sustainability.
To that end, roles and responsibilities will be divided between researchers and non-researchers in order to keep the focus on these needs. This will be accomplished through the use of a multi-stakeholder engagement mechanism known as innovation platforms (IP).
The IP is a social space, usually involving ongoing face-to-face and/ or virtual interactions, through which stakeholders engage to diagnose problems, identify opportunities, develop solutions and find ways to achieve shared goals.
The IP is crucial to the project as the basis for organizing the stakeholders along the Omena value chain for knowledge co-creation and innovation.
The project will be carried out for 30 months, beginning in March 2022, as part of the broader EU-funded regional project, “Strengthening Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Ecosystem for Inclusive Rural Transformation and Livelihoods in Eastern Africa (AIRTEA),” being coordinated by a consortium of partners comprising FARA, the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), and the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF).