BY PATRICK AMUNAVI
The quest to upscale processing and production of quality coconut-based value added products by small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) in the Coastal region, has received a major boost from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) which has developed a number of low cost gender-sensitive technologies.
The simple to operate technological innovations – the coconut dehusker, charcoal briquetting machine and a stirrer, were developed and fabricated by Manufacturing Research Chair’s Tooling and Machineries stream to strengthen the coconut value chains in Kenya.
Dr. Florence Kaibi, Director of Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate (NOCD), acknowledged JKUAT researchers for developing the technologies.
The three dehusking machines and a briquetting machine will greatly benefit four SMEs – Lola Rako and Jophina women groups based in Kwale and Mombasa counties respectively, as well as Cocovita Limited and Msambweni Coconut Producers in Kilifi and Kwale.
Speaking before handing over the technologies to the SMEs on October 26 – 27, 2020, Dr. Kaibi termed the new development “a key milestone in coconut value addition,” adding, “the technologies will enable the SMEs to increase value addition”.
“Up to date, processors utilize only 25% of the total available coconuts, leaving the country with an excess supply of an estimated 100 million pieces,”she said.
Dr. Kaibi stated that “the coconut sub-sector supports more than 150,000 households and has the potential of contributing slightly over Sh25 billion annually to the country’s GDP.”
However, due to inherent challenges, the exploited value of the sub-sector currently stands at a mere Sh13 billion, translating into only about 52% of the potential GDP value of the Sh25 billion.
Factors that have contributed to the low sub-sector GDP value include; low coconut tree population, high number of old and senile trees, pests and diseases, low productivity due to lack of improved varieties, low level of value addition, poor marketing of coconuts and coconut products and limited research on the crop.
“Although no breakthrough has been achieved so far in terms of development of improved coconut variety for successful transfer and adoption by farmers,” she said.
The director was optimistic of better prospects, pointing out current research initiatives by JKUAT researchers led by Prof. Aggrey Nyende at the Institute of Biotechnology Research.
She announced that last year, over 2,500 India-sourced coconut hybrid seedlings were distributed to farmers, noting it will provide local hybrid material for seed multiplication in the future.
The JKUAT Manufacturing Research Chair and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration), Prof. (Eng) Bernard Ikua, said, the project’s main emphasis is “to develop innovations targeting diverse issues within the coconut value chains, such as Food and Beverages, Energy and Biomass, Textile and Fibers, Cosmetics and Beauty Products, Tooling and Machineries to support manufacturing of products as well as Social and Economics.”
He said, “The researchers had developed the technologies to help SMEs to improve productivity, efficiency and to lower production costs,” and asked them to upscale their production and share feedback on the equipment’s performance to inform further improvement.
Prof. B. W. Ikua further revealed that a decorticating machine for fibre production is currently being fine-tuned before piloting and asked NOCD to help in identifying the SMEs’ equipment needs.
The SMEs expressed their gratitude, noting the technologies will boost their capacity to exploit the coconut resource and create wealth and improve livelihoods.
Lola Rako, a women group of 20 members processing natural virgin coconut oil, had, last year, cited poor equipment for coconut dehusking as their biggest challenge in upscaling virgin oil production.
Their secretary, Lucy Nasi Keya, said: “The new technology is convenient for the women since it is less tedious and doesn’t require a lot of energy and expertise to operate. Unlike the crude crowbar-like equipment we have been using, often causing injury and backache complications.”
Felista Yawa of Jophina group, said, the briquette making machine will help them enhance the production of charcoal briquettes from coconut shells for the market.
Hussein Myega, chairman of the 25-member Msambweni Coconut Producers specializing in coconut seedlings, buying and selling of coconuts and mat-weaving, decried “lack of hybrid seedlings to replace the aging coconut trees,” which he said, has undermined the exploitation of the coconut resource.
JKUAT is spearheading a multi-disciplinary research project implementing the second national University Research Chair programme on “Technological Innovations for Quality and Competitiveness in Manufacturing of Coconut Value Chains.” The project is supported by the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) and the Canadian International Development Research Centre.