By PATRICK AMUNAVI
The Second National University Research Chair on Manufacturing that is supported by the National Commission for Science, Innovation and Technology (NACOSTI) in partnership with Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), conducted a training for SMEs from Kilifi, Mombasa and Kwale counties to address identified gaps and challenges that hinder their productive engagement in the coconut value chains.
The training intervention was a response to an assessment survey by the Manufacturing Research Chair held by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) which is implementing the Manufacturing Project on Coconut Value Chains, which revealed various gaps and challenges along the value chains, hence the need for capacity building.
Speaking during the launch of the two-day short training conducted at the JKUAT Mombasa CBD Campus from January 31 to February 1, 2022, the Research Chair holder, Prof. Bernard Ikua noted that the research project was in its fifth year and was impressed by the great work being done by the SMEs to improve their enterprises.
The Research Chair was represented by Dr. Catherine Ngamau, a member of the Energy and Biomass Stream, who further urged the participants “to embrace the training and acquire the practical skills that would enable them enhance production, grow their business ventures to impact the economy.”
Dr. Ngamau underscored the value of the coconut crop, citing countries such as Sri Lanka, and India, “which have prioritized the coconut sector and have dedicated ministries to oversee the coconut sector.”
She therefore challenged the regional county governments to seize the opportunity and “partner with other stakeholders to support the coconut sub sector, whose potential is huge but has not been fully exploited.”
David Makhokha from the Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate (NOCD), welcomed the participants to the training, which they observed, “Was aimed at helping the SMEs improve on their productivity.”
The training participants were identified through the assistance of the Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate in Mombasa.
An extension of the training was conducted in Kwale County, where Dr. Waliambillah Waudo of the Cosmetics and Beauty Products stream, trained Hazina Waja Women group on soap and cosmetics production, as well as Product Standardization, emphasizing the need for “best practices to realize product competitiveness.”
The Internal Monitoring and Evaluation team under Ms. Caroline Oywer assisted by Prof. Willy Muturi (Social Economics Stream) evaluated the last training for SMEs which was offered in 2019, while the SMEs that benefitted from three types of equipment namely; the Stirrer, the Dehusker and the Briquette making machine were given questionnaires by Bonface Kariuki, a member of the Tools and Machinery Stream.
The SMEs shared feedback on the equipment based on its performance and impact on production and other attendant aspects including challenges and ways to address them.
The Research Chair is set to use the feedback from the SMEs to make improvements on the equipment to enhance performance and production.
Prof. Muturi also guided the SMEs on Financing for coconut enterprise development, and explained the application process and requirements for various loan products available to them.
The trainees expressed their views regarding funding opportunities including the challenges experienced in their effort to access government funding.
During the training, the SMEs had an opportunity to showcase some of their coconut value added products such as virgin coconut oil, honey, soaps, detergents, shampoos, lotions, an assortment of artefact among others.
Lucy Nasi Keya of Lola Rako Women group that specializes in production of natural virgin coconut oil, said, “Lack of branding has worked against accessing markets for her virgin oil product.” The cost associated with KEBS certification remains her main concern, she added.
While, Tabasam Abdallah of Hazina Waja, confessed that quality and production level had increased tremendously owing to the use of the Stirrer in the production of cosmetics and beauty products, and suggested few adjustments on the equipment to enhance efficiency.
The SMEs were pleased with the training and promised to put into practice the skills and knowledge gained to boost their capacity to exploit the coconut resource for wealth creation and improvement of livelihoods.
The first training for SMEs in 2019 incorporated several modules such as: business planning, record keeping and product costing, marketing and branding and industrial safety. Others were: product quality and standardization and intellectual property management.