Research Chair and Cocogrow Explore Opportunities in Coconut Value Chains

The team had an opportunity to witness how the yarn spinning machine converts fibre into ropes.

Researchers under the University Research Chair on Manufacturing on Technological Innovations for the Productivity and efficiency of the Coconut Value Chains, recently held discussions with Coco Grow Limited to understand and evaluate the status of operations, challenges and opportunities that could be explored to support the manufacturing agenda.

Supported by the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) through the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI),  the Research Chair team led by Dr. (Eng) Hiran Ndiritu who represented Prof. Bernard Ikua, assessed the level of technical interventions required to address emerging challenges the nascent Kwale-based SME is facing in its aspiration to manufacture various coconut based-products.

Speaking when he received the JKUAT team at his manufacturing facility, Friday, November 19, 2021, the CEO of Cocogrow, Mr. James Kapombe and Ms. Babra Kapombe, appreciated the Research Chair for visiting their facility “to get first-hand information on its operations and challenges and propose ways of addressing them.”

In his brief background of the SME, Mr. Kapombe said, “fibering and cocopeat production has been their core business since inception in 2018,”noting that the company had incorporated the “training of women on doormat making. This is what later gave birth to the business idea of coir rope making.”

Cocogrow  team and Research Chair members during the meeting at Cocogrow.

Mr Kapombe observed that Cocogrow is keen to work with the research team in developing new product lines and to improve existing product manufacturing processes further stating that production at the SME is demand-driven.

The CEO said, fiber had been a challenge at the manufacturing facility for a while with the SME resorting to burning over 1000kgs of the waste daily, before they made a decision to explore how to add value to the copious raw fiber.

However, he noted that machinery has been a major drawback in getting to model what they may want do. He acknowledged that “inputs used to bind the ropes for mat making are not locally available.”

Kapombe said the most-tricky part in mat making was the ropes. “Now the ropes are available, it should be easier for interested groups to do the mats.”

Speaking on training, Prof. Willy Muturi, encouraged Cocogrow to incorporate entrepreneurship skills component to help women groups to improve their livelihoods, while Bonface Kariuki of Machineries and Tooling stream, noted that de-fibering /decortication process had challenges that needed to be fixed by revamping the decorticator and the screener.

Textile and Fibre stream leader, Prof. John Githaiga of Moi University, addressed a number of issues including the need for standardization, training and capacity building.

The team is shown how the screener works.

The JKUAT team that included Dr. Catherine Ngamau of Energy and Biomass stream, and Caroline Oyier (Monitoring and Evaluation) shared expert advice on various aspects such as diversification of business, marketing, and branding after a guided tour of the facility to familiarize themselves with the operational and production dynamics at Cocogrow.

Dr. Ndiritu was optimistic, the SME had the potential to grow and deliver on its core business mandate, reiterating the readiness of the Research Chair experts “to support the SME in its journey to foster manufacturing and wealth creation.”

He noted that there were opportunities that could be explored to grow the manufacturing sector.

CocoGrow was established to provide eco solutions for the horticultural industry and upcycles coconut husk waste collected from smallholder farmers in Kwale County.

The core business of the SME is the production of growing media for plant propagation in the horticulture industry and is exploring other ways of utilizing fiber, besides rope making.

The SME has an automated yarn spinning machine that is used to convert fiber into ropes, a move the CEO says, “Will help the country to achieve a circular economy and a closed loop system for resources.”

Although a ready market for coco peat exists, the current local production cannot satisfy the demand, given that most of the coco peat used in Kenya, is imported from India and Sri Lanka.

The start-up aspires to make good use of the high amount of coconut husk waste produced at the Kenyan Coast and the big demand for coco peat in the horticulture industry.

Research Chair team with their host at Cocogrow after the meeting

The Research Chair researchers are drawn from JKUAT, Moi and Multimedia universities, working with SMEs to improve productivity and quality targeting diverse coconut value chains.

These include safe value added food, cosmetics and textiles, and biomass and energy.  They are also supporting SMES in the coconut sub sector to become fully-grown industries.

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