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Egerton University Researchers Win Sh194m in Grants

Three Egerton University researchers have won grants worth a total of Sh194,629,346 for commercializing innovative and environmentally friendly bio insecticide and tackle effects of climate change.

Director in charge of Research Professor Nancy Mungai said Professor Josiah Omollo had won a two-year Icipe Bioinnovate Africa grant worth USD 999,516.00 (Sh128,137,951) for developing and commercializing innovative and environmentally friendly bioinsecticide products to combat insect pests.

Professor Omollo is also a beneficiary of the USD 20,000.00(Sh 256,400) Alliance for African Partnership Transforming Institutions Strategic Funding towards the operationalization of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Regional Research Centre (ICGEB RRC) based at Egerton University’s Njoro Main Campus.

Professor Mungai revealed that Professor Wilkister Moturi of the Environmental Science department had secured a three-year grant of 400,000 British pounds (Sh 62,270,000) from the European Commission to explore ways of mitigating the effects of climate change and development of policies and strategies aimed at conserving the environment and promoting sustainable development.

The Director in charge of Research further announced that Dr Miriam K Charimbu’s research on the nutritional value and commercial potential of an African Leafy Vegetable locally known as Togotia had attracted 32,319.57 British pounds (Sh 4,964,995) funding from Innovate UK KTN Award 2022.

“The grants will bolster our efforts to provide sustainable solutions to challenges facing our communities. We look forward to the positive impacts of his research for our communities and beyond. We commend our staff for conducting exemplary research, which has enabled the university to continue being visible globally,” Professor Mungai said.

Towards providing a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution for controlling insect pests that damage crops, with an objective of enhancing food security and reducing poverty in the region, Professor Omollo will work with, Professor Joshua Ogendo, Professor George Owuor, Dr John Nduko and Dr Bernard Kirui from Egerton University.

The project also involves external collaborators, including Dr John Bwire and Dr Xavier Cheseto from International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) Dr Teresiah Njihia and Dr Samuel Muchemi of Farm Track Consulting Limited, Dr Matobola Joel Mihale and Professor Leonia Henry from The Open University of Tanzania and Dr Adrien Turamyenyirijuru and Dr Chantal Mutimawurugo of University of Rwanda.

The 12 will examine ways of promoting the use of non-chemical pest-fighting measures to shield consumers from excessive chemical residues in food and protect the environment.

According to Professor Omollo besides excessive chemicals being a danger to human health, they also eat into farmers’ working profits and are demotivators, therefore, threatening food security.

The Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry said he and team will be working towards a situation where use of chemical pest control will be a last resort after bio-friendly measures are found to have failed.

Their research comes in the wake of studies that have found that residues of toxic pesticides used in crop production have been finding their way into and wreaking havoc on human body systems.

“Toxicity is an obstacle to the right to food. Pesticides can persist in the environment for decades and pose a threat to the entire ecological system. Excessive use and misuse pollute water resources, causing loss of biodiversity, destroying beneficial insect populations and reducing the safety of our food,” stated Professor Omollo.

In the one-year Alliance for African Partnership Transforming Institutions Strategic Funding towards promoting the use of biotechnology and supporting scientific research in the East African region Professor Omollo will team up with Professor Guo-qing Song of Michigan State University (MSU).

Professor Omollo affirmed that since biotechnology development remains a top priority in enhancing of food security, evolving more efficient and cleaner industrial manufacturing processes, and reducing negative effects on the environment in Kenya, operationalization of International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Regional Research Centre comes at an opportune time.

He elaborated “Evidence shows biotechnology has aided so far in increasing food production as scientists aim at making it beneficial too to the environment. Biotechnology might simply be the solution to Kenya’s future and current agricultural problems like adverse climate and weather changes, feeding an ever-growing population and converting the huge bare chunks of land to be arable,”

Kenya, he noted, has a great potential to grow crops bio technically like Africa’s top countries namely South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso adding that development of herbicide tolerant crops for instance would save farmers the many hours spent on the farm getting rid of weeds thus invest them on other productive agricultural activities that will help promote food security.

“Various studies show biotechnology in Kenya can be improvised to help farmers even diagnose crop diseases by incorporating mobile technology,” offered the don.

Professor Moturi from the Faculty of Environment and Resources Development at Egerton University will be collaborating with Sorbonne University in Paris, France in exploring interventions aimed at reversing environmental degradation, combating climate change through mitigation and adaptation, improving people’s health outcomes and saving costs.

The study will not only aim at strengthening environmental sustainability and stewarding natural resources for future generations, but also improving the lives and livelihoods of African people through clean energy transitions.

Professor Moturi underscored the importance of supporting farmers to adopt Climate Smart Agriculture technologies such as solar water pumping, solar irrigation systems, bio-digesters for biogas production and bio-slurry application, post-harvest loss management, energy efficiency solutions for households, industries and institutions through interventions like solar water heating, retrofits and replacement of polluting fuels used by industries with cleaner and environmentally friendly alternatives.

She noted that empowering local communities on sustainable farming practices, environmental conservation and reforestation will enable them to protect and preserve the forests on which they depend.

The Professor of Environmental Health indicated that it was crucial to look at the entire ecosystem and develop new strategies which encourage economic growth and development while also protecting our natural resources.

In the grant-winning project titled “Exploring the potential of Togotia, a forgotten African leafy vegetable for nutritional security and climate adaptation in Kenya” Dr Charimbu will oversee establishment of demonstration plots of the crop at both Egerton University and neighbouring local farmers’ fields.

“The project aims to address the twin pressing issues of nutritional security and climate adaptation in Kenya. Neglected native food crops, plant species such as Togotia that are little used, or which were grown traditionally but have fallen into disuse, can help alleviate hunger and malnutrition in afflicted populations,” Dr Charimbu explained.

The Crop Pathologist, Production and Protection specialist at Egerton University stated that these neglected species have proved food or energy value, have been widely cultivated in the past or are currently cultivated in a limited geographical area.

Dr Charimbu added “Togotia has enormous potential for contributing to improved financial situations, food security and nutrition, and for combating ‘hidden hunger’ caused by micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiencies,’’

She said the indigenous vegetable was inexpensive to produce and well adapted to the environments in which it grew.

Over and above the nutritional, medicinal and commercial value of Togotia indigenous vegetable, Dr Charimbu placed it at the centre of managing the adverse effects of climate change.

“Many of the indigenous vegetables such as Togotia are better adapted to drought and common pests and diseases compared to the exotic crops,” said the don.

By Anne Mwale

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