One of the major challenges facing the coconut sector at the Kenyan Coast is the under-utilization of coconut resources to spur manufacturing in Kenya. Where attempts to utilize the coconut resources have been made, “it has been done using traditional approaches that are not informed by scientific and technological innovation.”
This is according to the national Manufacturing Research Chair programme on Technological Innovations for the Productivity and Efficiency in the coconut value chains, under the 5-year project that is supported by the International Development Research Centre (ICDRC) of Canada, through the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI).
The project is being implemented by the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in partnership with other stakeholders in a multi-disciplinary and multi institutional arrangement that brings together experts and researchers from JKUAT, Multi-media University, Moi University, the Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate (NOCD), Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), among others.
According to the researchers, “currently, there is no knowledge on the best variety for oil extraction and knowledge on the quality of oil with different extraction methods, as well as lack of a standardized method of oil extraction.” This, the research team notes, has led to the presence of many products in the market which are not competitive.
This was revealed, Wednesday, January 29, 2020, when researchers and postgraduate students presented their progress reports for the first quarter of the research project that is now in its third year of implementation.
During the meeting, researchers further noted that there exists a knowledge gap on simple processing technologies, especially at the farm level, aimed at improved quality.
The Food and Beverages research stream is currently evaluating coconut oil derived from different varieties and extracted using techniques for improved quality and competitiveness in the market.
Postgraduate students working under the various research streams namely; – Textiles and Fibres, Cosmetics and Beauty Products, Energy and Biomass, Food and Beverages, Social Economics, Machinery and Tooling, shared their research progress reports and milestones.
The Research Chair is supporting postgraduate research training in various local universities at Masters and PhD level, working under the following identified thematic areas; fibre extraction and characterization, development of cosmetics and beauty products, synthesis and characterization of cellulose based superabsorbent hydrogels, characterization of value addition of coconut and its products, optimization of coconut husk decorticator through automation, among others.
During the quarterly meeting, the Research Chair, Prof. Bernard Ikua, lauded efforts made by the researchers and reiterated the project’s commitment to support the students’ research work. He encouraged researchers to remain focused on the research outputs, whose overall objective is to address the challenges facing the coconut sector, especially the value chains for wealth creation and improved livelihoods at the Coast.
JKUAT won a competitive bid in 2017 to Chair and spearhead the programme on technological innovations for quality and competitiveness in the manufacture of coconut value added products.
Apart from research and capacity building, JKUAT is expected to design and develop tools and machines for the production and commercialization of the coconut crop. The technologies include; the decorticator, stirrer, dehusker, screener, carbonizer, briquetting machine, among others.
Already, the research team has developed and deployed the Stirrer, which is being piloted with the Hazina Waja Women Group in Kwale County. The technology is expected to help the SME to tap the coconut resource for wealth creation and improved livelihoods through production of quality cosmetics and beauty products.
The Research Chair has also announced the call for the next cohort of research training for MSc. and PhD candidates. Details can be accessed at https://www.jkuat.ac.ke/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Advert-for-MSc-PhD-Resarch-Training-Opportunities-Copy.pdf