On Thursday, 29th June 2023, the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Nairobi was honored to host a high-level delegation from The Rockefeller Foundation. The visiting team was led by the Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer, Ms. Natalye Paquin from the New York Office, and Mr. William Asiko, the Vice President, of Africa Region, who happens to be an Alumni of the University of Nairobi, Faculty of Law class of 1987. The other team members were drawn from the Foundation’s Head Quarters in New York and other regional offices. The visit was co-organized by the University of Nairobi Postharvest Research Team led by Prof Jane Ambuko and The Rockefeller Foundation’s, Africa Region Office led by Ms. Kagwiria Koome (Program Manager) and Ms. Betty Kibaara (Director, Food Initiative). The visit was part of the foundation’s ‘Home Week’ where staff get to build relationships, learn about the Foundation’s priorities, and reflect on the opportunities to scale the Foundation’s impact.
The visiting team of 30 people was divided into three groups and taken through a practical, hands-on session on processing some of the high-quality and nutritious products from mango fruit – mango juice, dried mango chips/crisps, and mango-enriched yogurt. The purpose of taking them through the practical session was to appreciate the process of making high-quality products using simple processing technologies that have been introduced to small-scale processors who are supported and/or incubated by the Food Processing Hub.
The Food Processing Hub was established under the YieldWise Initiative through a project titled ‘Strengthening Kenyan Small-Scale Processors to Access Market and Reduce Losses (SAP)’, a partnership between the University of Nairobi and Purdue University with support from The Rockefeller Foundation (2018-2022). The main goal of the Hub is to help reduce food losses, expand markets for local farmers, and improve nutrition for consumers in Kenya through increased availability and adoption of modern food processing technologies. Examples of technologies promoted by the Hub include a simple juice processing line, a tunnel dryer, and dehytray™. These technologies were also established for the Hub’s spokes including Karurumo Horticultural Self-help Group (Embu County) and Masii Horticulture Cooperative (Machakos County) under the YieldWise initiative. These technologies have enabled the groups to process mango (and other fruits) into shelf-stable products and reduce losses, especially during the peak season. The Postharvest Research team supports these groups and other processors through regular training to continually improve their products and co-create new products demanded by the market. During the visit, Prof. Ambuko expounded on the achievements of the Hub since it was established in 2018 and the vision to reach out to more farmers and processors. In addition, Dr. Duke Gekonge, an incubatee of the Hub narrated how he has benefited from the facilities at the Hub to develop innovative commercial products from underutilized fruits such as guava, baobab, cactus, and others.
The event was graced by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research, Innovation & Enterprise), Prof Margaret Hutchinson, the Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Prof. Moses Nyangito, and the Ag. Chair Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Technology. Dr. Sophia Ngala who represented the Faculty and University Management. The team appreciated the long-standing partnership between the University of Nairobi and the Rockefeller Foundation. They emphasized the desire to strengthen and grow this partnership because of the common goal of positively impacting livelihoods.
On their part, the Rockefeller Foundation team appreciated the warm welcome and the practical experience in food processing. Mr. Asiko and Ms. Paquin acknowledged the enormous capacity for research and innovation at the University of Nairobi. They emphasized the need for the policy connection to realize lasting and sustainable impact. They promised to continue supporting the University of Nairobi in their efforts to impact communities through research and innovation.