Researchers, State to Collaborate on Solutions for SMEs in the Coconut Sector

Screenshot of a section of participants during the annual  TAC meeting held virtually.

Researchers implementing the national Manufacturing Research Chair Programme on Technological Innovations for Quality and Competitiveness in Manufacturing of Coconut Value Added Products have been advised to shun the “silo mentality” and instead, strengthen collaboration with key State agencies like Kenya Industrial of Research and Development and Kenya Industrial Estate, as they develop sustainable solutions to help small and medium enterprises in the coconut sub sector.

Director of Industry- Enterprise Development, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Enterprise Development, Ms. Nancy Muya, spoke during the technical advisory committee virtual meeting, organized by the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Friday, August 7, 2020, when researchers presented reports covering three years since the second University Research Chair programme held by JKUAT was launched in 2017.

MSc student, Joyline Gichuki (left) of the Manufacturing Research Chair Stand, explains to guests during the JKUAT Open Day 2019.

The programme, supported by the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) and Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), focuses on productivity and quality in value addition of coconut products with specific focus on coconut products namely; “Food and Beverages, Energy and Biomass, Textile and Fibers, Cosmetics and Beauty Products as well as Tooling and Machineries” to support manufacturing of value added coconut products.

The Industrialization Director debunked what she described as the “silo mentality” and urged the researchers to “strengthen collaboration with Kenya Institute of Research and Development.”

Ms. Muya encouraged the Tooling and Machineries experts to engage with Numerical Machining Complex for fabrication of the technologies developed, as JKUAT reserved the rights, while the Kenya Industrial Estates could provide support to SMEs through the incubation facility at the Coast as well as financing.

Left to Right:  Energy and Biomass Research Stream Leader, Prof. Robert Kinyua, Prof. Ikua and Project Research Assistant, Jimmy Nyongesa, inspect the automatic oxygen bomb calorimeter – one of the equipment bought by the the Manufacturing Research Chair project.

She welcomed further engagement with the Research Chair, adding, the Industrialization Ministry “supports efforts being taken to support local small and medium enterprises (SMEs), entrepreneurship and utilization of local resources thus promoting ‘Buy Kenya, Build Kenya’ initiative.”

Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi asked the researchers and postgraduate students in the six research streams “ to adapt and remain resilient in order to develop sustainable innovative solutions that will address challenges hindering SMEs in the coconut value chains from realizing their full potential.”

Prof. Ngumi told participants drawn from Industrialization and Agriculture ministries, LIWA, NACOSTI, Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), Coast Development Authority, Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate, Moi and Multimedia universities, that the meeting was taking place when the world is grappling with the unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that has also affected the country’s manufacturing sector, “ yet the sector is touted as one of the critical sectors to the attainment of Kenya Vision 2030, the Big 4 Agenda, as well as the actualization of government policies on job creation, value addition and import substitution, among others.”

Boniface Kariuki (left) and Mr. Nyongesa installing the Stirrer, donated to Hazina Waja in Kwale.

The prospect of achieving the objectives, Prof. Ngumi noted, “has been hampered by, among other factors; poor performance of the manufacturing sector which has been attributed to low capital injection, use of obsolete technologies, inadequate raw materials and the high cost of production.”

However, she was optimistic, researchers will be conscious of the contextual environment that currently informs their research activities in order to innovate.

Prof. Ngumi further told researchers “to leverage their synergies and channel their energies in identifying existing policy gaps in the manufacturing sector and develop policy interventions to address obstacles obstructing the implementation of the Big 4 Agenda, especially the manufacturing pillar.”

She thanked NACOSTI and IDRC for funding the research project, and appealed to the Coastal counties of Kwale, Kilifi, and Mombasa to be part of the initiative for the benefit of players in the coconut value chains.

Energy and Biomass Research Steam Co-leader, Dr. Catherine Ngamau (right) oversees the collection of soil samples in Murang’a when Research Chair team  visited a coconut  farm.

According to Prof.  Bernard Ikua, the Research Chair, and acting Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration), the project has acquired various state-of-the-art equipment and machines to help carry out research and develop technologies and value added products, all aimed at boosting the potential of SMEs in wealth creation and poverty alleviation by exploiting the coconut crop.

The Hazina Waja Women SME in Kwale, recently received the Stirrer, a machine developed by the Research Chair through the tooling and machineries experts. The machine has enhanced the(ir) production of quality cosmetics and beauty products, says Prof. Ikua. More technologies and products are set to be rolled out for the benefit of SMEs and coconut farmers.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research, Production and Extension) Prof. Mary Abukutsa characterized  the Manufacturing Research Chair as “one of the key projects at JKUAT that has adopted a holistic approach, by integrating capacity building, product development, industry linkage and alignment with Government’s development agenda particularly manufacturing.”

She observed that last year, the researchers participated in stakeholder-fora to share their work during Transform Kenya and agricultural trade fairs in Central Kenya and Nairobi.

Members of Hazina Waja package beauty and cosmetics products as Bonface Kariuki demonstrates how the digital weighing scale donated by JKUAT Research Chair operates.

KAM representative, Job Wanjohi, said the project objectives are aligned to the SDG goals, and called for a relationship between research outcomes and industry linkages in guiding the development of machineries and technologies, while Coast Development Authority representative, Ms. Nzumbi hailed the engagement as good for the authority and for the benefit of local community because the coconut is an important sub sector.

Some of the activities to be undertaken in FY 2020/2021 to unlock the potential of the coconut value chains and impact the economies of small scale enterprises, include training, policy advocacy, development of low cost gender sensitive, energy efficient tools and machineries for processing coconut based products,  piloting and demonstration trials of equipment.

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