Four research projects led by Kenyan institutions are among eleven initiatives that have been awarded grants totalling US$ 6 million, to enable them turn their innovative ideas and technologies, based on biological sciences, into viable businesses.
The other seven projects are from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.
The innovation funding has been provided by the Bioresources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development (BioInnovate Africa) Programme, a regional initiative supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
The Kenyan winners include an innovative industrial processing technology by the University of Nairobi, which greatly improves, through time efficiency, reduction of wastage, and reduced environmental pollution, the dehairing of leather and descaling fish, among other procedures.
Maize and finger millet varieties, that are resistant to the obnoxious Striga weed, a major challenge in Kenya and Uganda, developed by Maseno University, will also benefit from the funding.
Two scientists from the Nairobi headquartered International Centre of Insect Phyisology (icipe) will lead the commercialisation of biopesticides developed from fungi, and to promote strategies and technologies that will enable disinfestation of pests from fruits and vegetables from Africa, thereby unlocking access to lucrative overseas markets.
Also awarded are three innovative technologies and products led by scientists from Makerere University, Uganda.
They include a technology that will use heat radiation mechanisms to dry and package fruits and vegetables in a manner that preserves natural quality; a proposal to develop agribusinesses by ensuring all-year-round production and processing of insects that are traditionally consumed in Africa, for instance grasshoppers (nsenene) and crickets; an initiative to produce new, conveniently and attractively packaged sorghum and millet products, that can be consumed instantly in various solid forms, or as malted drinks; and strategies to integrate information communication technologies (ICT) in the production and marketing of tissue culture sweetpotato vines to increase yields.
Three projects led by researchers from Tanzania have also been selected. They include University of Dar es Salaam researchers, who will scale-up production and commercialisation of a renewable fertilizer that is fortified with nitrogen from biodegradable waste obtained in urban centres.
Their counterparts from the Tanzania Institute of Research and Development have been granted funds to avail across Africa a more efficient material (known technically as a substrate), that will significantly enhance smallholder mushroom cultivation.
While these teams are led by scientists from the above mentioned institutions, they involve 51 other institutions (over 50% of them private sector companies) distributed in the five countries as project team members or partners.
The 11 winners were announced during a high-level forum on developing a bioeconomy in eastern Africa, held in Kigali, Rwanda, on 3 and 4 November 2017, through a partnership between the country’s National Council for Science and Technology (NCST); icipe and the Nairobi headquartered BioInnovate Africa programme.