Research Chair Initiates Collaboration Talks with Cocogrow

Dr. Ndiritu (centre) makes his remarks during the meeting. Left is Ms. Oywer and Dr. Kihato (far right).

The Manufacturing Research Chair (MRC) Programme on Technological Innovations for Quality and Competitiveness in the Manufacturing of Coconut Value Added Products, has initiated discussions aimed at establishing a collaborative working framework with the Kwale-based CocoGrow Company Limited to support coconut value chains.

This was revealed during a meeting between the Research Chair and the Founder/Chief Executive Officer of Cocogrow, Mr. James Kapombe Kasemo and Barbra Kapombe on Monday, July 12, 2021 at JKUAT.

Dr. Hiram Ndiritu who chaired the discussions on behalf of the Research Chair, Prof. Benard Ikua, welcomed Cocogrow and expressed the readiness of MRC team to work with the entrepreneur.

He gave a snapshot background of the research project including highlights of the various research streams implementing different thematic areas whose main goal he stated, “Is to improve the manufacturing sector for the country through the coconut sub sector through value addition.”

Dr. Ndiritu reiterated the mult-disciplinary and multi institutional nature of the research team that draws experts from JKUAT, Moi, and Multimedia universities, noting they are keen to address some of the challenges raised by Cocogrow, emphasizing the need for Cocogrow to utilize the MRC expertise.

Prof. Ikua (left) speaks to Mr. and Mrs. Kapombe (4th and 5th from right) at the engineering workshops in the company of  Research Chair team members.

Speaking at the meeting, Mr. Kapombe said, Cocogrow was established in 2018 as small company in Msambweni, Kwale County, specializing in the manufacture of cocopeat, a byproduct extracted from the coconut husk after the fibre is removed.

A JKUAT alumnus who studied actuarial science before venturing into entrepreurship, Mr. Kapombe, highlighted the challenges he encountered as a young tomato farmer in accessing cocopeat, led him to think of ways to address the challenges facing the horticulture industry by venturing into cocopeat production.

“I used to buy cocopeat locally as a medium for growing my tomato seedlings but it was very expensive …” explained Mr. Kapombe.

Currently, he stated, his company is on a pilot and has found ways of diversifying its business model, noting, Cocogrow has been producing cocopeat for about 3 years for the flower farms and those who engage in propagation of plant nurseries. He added that it contributed to sustainability in food security by applying cocoa peat to other purposes.

L- R: JKUAT team of Prof. Gachanja, Dr. Ngamau, Ms. Gichuki, and Prof. Kareru with their host, Mr. Kapombe when JKUAT researchers visited Cocogrow in Kwale in 2020 / Photo-Courtesy.

Mr. Kapombe said, fibre has been a challenge that the company now looks forward to ways of handling it, citing the rising demand for fibre and has had to scale down marketing to focus on producing 6-12 tons per week.

The company has acquired an automated rope making machine from India, which they hope will help them manage their by-product, the Coir fiber. It is also searching for other ways of utilizing the fiber, besides rope making.

The firm aspires to make good use of the high amount of coconut husk waste produced at the Kenyan Coast and the huge need for coco peat in the horticulture industry.

There is ready market for coco peat that current local production is not able to meet. Majority of the coco peat used in Kenya is imported from India and Sri Lanka, but with Cocogrow production facility and expert intervention from the MRC, the scenario is likely to change.

The participants after the JKUAT and Cocogrow meeting. 

Researchers under the project are working with SMEs in Kilifi, Kwale, and Mombasa counties on specific tasks including: designing, developing and deploying equipment and technologies to improve productivity and quality targeting diverse aspects within the coconut industry.

The aspects include;  safe value added food, cosmetics and textile products, biomass and energy, as well as supporting SMES in the Coconut sub sector to become fully grown industries.

Present during the meeting were; Dr. Catherine Ngamau, Dr. Waudo Walyambilla, Dr. Peter Kihato, Mr. Bonface Kariuki, Ms. Caroline Oywer, Prof. Antony Gachanja, Joyline Gichuki and Jimmy Nyongesa.

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