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JKUAT launches food fortification reference laboratory

The laboratory was constructed and equipped with funding from the European Union under the ‘Strengthening the Kenya National Food Fortification Programme.’ The programme is jointly implemented by JKUAT and the Ministry of Health.

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Amb. Geiger (second left) and Dr. Matendechero (second right) cut the ribbon to unveil the laboratory witnessed by Prof. Ngumi (left) and Cs. Abdi (right)

A national food fortification reference laboratory has been launched at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. The laboratory, equipped with modern tools for analysis, will aid the government’s efforts to reduce malnutrition among vulnerable groups through the addition of essential micronutrients in widely consumed stable foods such as maize and wheat flour, edible oils and salt.

The laboratory was constructed and equipped with funding from the European Union under the ‘Strengthening the Kenya National Food Fortification Programme.’ The programme is jointly implemented by JKUAT and the Ministry of Health.

Speaking during the launch, European Union (EU) Ambassador to Kenya, Henriette Geiger said the facility reflects the EU values on international partnerships aimed at reducing inequality while promoting research-based decision-making.

The envoy added that the EU currently has the largest public research platform which Kenyan universities can draw from to help actualise local and global development aspirations in partnerships with their European counterparts.

Amb. Geiger further urged targeted research and technology transfer in sustainable agriculture and preservation of livelihoods within arid and semi-arid areas, in the backdrop of climate change.

Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha lauded the establishment of the laboratory at JKUAT, noting that it will empower the government to “monitor and evaluate the quality of fortified foods, ensuring that they meet the required standards and safety regulations.”

In a speech read by Deputy Director of Health, Dr. Sultani Matendechero, the CS said fortification of maize flour remains a challenge due to the industry’s complexity including micro-millers (posho mills), who mill non-packaged maize for community use.

“Current results indicate improvement in fortification compliance for maize flour from 16% (2017) to 46% (2022) and wheat flour from 18% (2017) to 84% (2022),” added the CS.

JKUAT Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi said the European Union had become a key development partner of JKUAT in supporting the research and innovation enterprise.

“Besides financing the construction of the Food Fortification Laboratory, the EU is also funding a number of other projects aimed at addressing some of the most pressing challenges of humanity today such as climate change,” said Prof. Ngumi.

The Vice-Chancellor said the laboratory would play into JKUAT’s commitment to solving societal problems through the generation of new knowledge, food analysis and industry training.

“We have now moved a step further in supporting the new efforts towards rice fortification. The laboratory has also become a reference point for flour blending,” Prof. Ngumi said.

JKUAT Chairman of Council Hassan Abdi Mohammed noted that through the laboratory which is now accredited by the Kenya Bureau of Standards, it is now possible for industry and market-level sampling of flour to check compliance with the national food fortification and safety standards.

“We recognize the importance of public-private partnerships in this endeavour, and we are grateful for the support and collaboration of various stakeholders,” said the Council Chair.