Youth urged to be active players in Kenya’s coconut sub-sector

Prof. Ikua and Dr. Ngamau engaging an exhibitor involved in briquette production.

The agriculture sector remains the backbone of Kenya’s economy and directly contributes 29% of the annual GDP and another 26% indirectly. However, the participation of youth in the sector is still low yet approximately, 64 % of the unemployed Kenyans are youth.

This was a major concern for stakeholders at the National Coconut Week and Consultative Conference in Kilifi County, which opened on April 18 – 19, followed by county chapters running from April 20 – 26, 2024.

During a panel session to interrogate “Youth involvement in an innovative coconut value chain,” lead panelist, Mr. Mwalimu Menza, Senior Research Scientist, Industrial Crops Institute at KALRO, Mtwapa, JKUAT Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Administration and Finance, Prof. Bernard Ikua and Mr. James Kapombe, CEO of Cocogrow Company, explored challenges to youth’s participation in the coconut value chain.

“Limited access to agricultural land, inadequate knowledge, skills and information, negative attitude, long maturity duration for local coconut variety” Mr. Menza noted, continue to work as a disincentive to young people’s active participation in the coconut sub sector.

The Research Chair project spearheaded by the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) was one of the participating institutions at the conference panel discussion.

Addressing the involvement of youth in research especially in the coconut sub sector, Prof. Muturi who is “investigating the impact of strategic interventions on the competitiveness of the coconut value addition enterprise” under the Research Chair project said, “Experts are working with farmers, women and youth owned SMEs in identifying challenges and providing solutions to adding value to the coconut.”

Panelits from L-R, Mr. Menza, Prof. Muturi and Mr. Kapombe during the conference session on youth involvement in coconut value chain.

With support from Canadian International Development Research Centre through the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), Prof. Muturi highlighted the mechanization efforts championed by JKUAT in developing various technologies and equipment for use by youth and women groups in the coconut value chain.

Citing manual dehuskers, a mixing machine for processing beauty and cosmetics products and briquetting machines as some of the technologies disseminated by JKUAT, Prof. Muturi said, “one of the major drawbacks in rolling out research work in the coconut value chain is lack of funds for extension.”

Panel discussants therefore called for key stakeholders “to provide financial support towards research endeavours including the dissemination of technologies that could help to revitalize the coconut sub sector.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Prof. Bernard Ikua, further pointed out other ongoing projects such, as “development of cosmetic and beauty products from coconut oil, performance of coconut fiber reinforced clay based geopolymer concrete, development of coconut fiber biochar and its application as soil amendment, evaluation of coconut oil for improved product quality and consumer health in Kenya.”

A multi- disciplinary team of researchers from JKUAT, Moi and Multimedia universities and the Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate, is currently implementing Research Chair project activities on technological innovations and productivity and quality in the coconut value chain “to enhance Kenya’s competitiveness in the manufacturing of value added nut products particularly the coconut products,” Prof. Ikua stated.

The conference participants identified opportunities that could attract youth in the coconut value chain including, “coconut nursery agribusiness, value addition with over 100 products identified, early maturing hybrid coconut production, intercropping with short duration high value crops.”

The Cocogrow company that collaborates with the JKUAT Research Chair, also showcased door mat products made from coir.

The panel called upon youth to offer services at a fee using equipment such as climbing machines for coconut harvesting, dehusking machines among others.

JKUAT is one of the research institutions in Kenya that has developed technologies and equipment to support coconut value addition enterprises for youth and women.

The institution has already deployed technologies to specific SMEs in Kwale, Kilifi and Mombasa counties namely; Lola Rako, Jophina, Msambweni Coconut Producers and Hazina Waja, among others.

Research Chair Members Dr. Catherine Ngamau, Johnson Mwandi, Caroline Oywer, interacted with SMEs from counties that benefitted from the knowledge and technology transfer under the project during the monitoring and evaluation exercise that seeks to provide critical feedback to the ongoing research work.

Some of the conference recommendations during the session called for land reforms that are particularly tailor made land leases for youth, affirmative action during land adjudication, innovative financing strategies, with more calls for alternative forms of collateral other than land ownership and financing across different nodes of coconut value chains.

The Kilifi conference brought together coconut farmers, processors, traders, researchers, NGOs, development partners, financiers,  regional and national government and International Coconut Community(ICC) “to engage on the accelerated development of the coconut industry through proposing innovations and solutions facing the farmers and other value chain players.”

Research Chair members Prof. Ikua and Dr. Catherine Ngamau follow conference proceedings during the coconut week.

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