China-funded lab to boost Kenya’s agricultural innovation


The ongoing building of a China-funded laboratory in a Kenyan university is to enhance agricultural research and innovation, and in a long run, benefit the farmers in the East African nation, said a Kenyan scholar.

Professor Richard Mulwa from Egerton University said that the crop molecular laboratory, which is under construction in his university in collaboration with China’s Nanjing Agricultural University, will solve problems of low crop productivity among the small and large scale farmers in Kenya through innovation.

“China has great experience in agricultural technology, which we can borrow to train small scale farmers on how to improve crop production,” said Mulwa, adding that a team of five experienced Chinese scholars will join their Kenyan counterparts in the managing the facility’s tutorial and research activities once it becomes operational next year.

The lab, which is backed with a US$1 million funding from the Chinese government, will be used for learning and conducting research on molecular genetics of various crops, formulation and improvement of tissue culture as well as gene cloning, according to Mulwa, who is in charge of the establishment of the facility.

“The lab can be used for developing genetically modified foods once we start the operations and receive clearance from National Biosafety Authority,” he noted. “Our interest is to do applied research which will benefit the society.”

Mulwa said they will target 500 crop technologists and scientists annually drawn from across Kenya and other African countries for training on the innovative systems of crop production and management through the lab, and they will jointly conduct trainings for the small scale farmers to transfer the knowledge on improved crop production.

Small scale farmers make up to 65% of the food producers in Kenya, and training them on ways of enhancing their productivity will decrease hunger and poverty in the households, he observed.

Sensitizing small scale farmers in the Sub-Saharan Africa on technologies and innovations efficient to improving their agricultural productivity can increase their yields by up to 40%, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which conducts continuous studies on agricultural production in Africa.

The lab is just a scale up of the agricultural scientific and technological exchanges that the universities of Nanjing and Egerton have celebrated since 1995 when the first Chinese professor was absorbed into the Kenyan university to expand horticultural innovations.

Currently, the two universities are extending their partnership into establishing an African Center for Research and Graduate Training in Agriculture, which is expected to be in place in five years.

“We will be able to train 100 PhD candidates in various agriculture related disciplines. The 40% of them will be from Kenya, 20 percent drawn from China and 40% from the rest of Africa,” he said of the center.

For both countries, agriculture is an important sector feeding the populations and earning the economies foreign exchange revenue. It is also an important business growing area drawing mutual importance for both countries and hence requires continuous sharing of experiences to boost crop production.

“Agriculture is an area of learning and an area of fast growth,” said Mulwa.” China and Kenya have a lot to learn for each other and through continued collaboration, there will be an increased exchange in technology and innovations.”

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