Monday, May 13, 2024

On 9th May 2024, the Fresh Produce Aggregation and Distribution Hub was commissioned as part of the Nairobi Innovation Week 2024 activities. The hub designed and built through a partnership between the University of Nairobi (UoN) and Mabati Rolling Mills (MRM). The collaborative initiative is a major milestone in the efforts to leverage academia-industry partnerships in finding practical solutions to challenges facing society. The Hub is an upgrade of the fresh produce ‘kiosk’  which has been in existence at the field station for decades. The new hub is equipped with simple facilities for handling, minimal processing and cold storage of fresh produce to preserve quality and extend their marketing period. The fresh produce Hub seeks to link smallholder horticultural farmers to the urban market while making the horticultural produce conveniently available to consumers in Nairobi.

The newly commissioned Fresh Produce Aggregation and Distribution Hub 

In the initial phase, operationalization of the Hub will be supported through a collaborative project between the University of Nairobi and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO). The project titled Enhancing Productivity, Post-Harvest Management and Market Access of African Indigenous Vegetables in Kenya is funded by USAID’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture, which is hosted by the University of California, Davis, USA. The target Counties in the collaborative project are Kisii and Kakamega Counties. The target groups in these Counties will each benefit from a solar-powered cold room and a charcoal cooler (for Kakamega). The cooling facilities will enable the smallholder farmers to aggregate their produce (mainly African Indigenous Vegetables) to meet the required quantities for consistent supply to the target markets through the Hub. 

The Hub’s branding plaque was unveiled by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. S. G. Kiama and Engineer Samwel Muhingo (representing the CEO of MRM). The unveiling session was followed by a tour of the Hub led by the coordinator of the UON-MRM partnership (Prof Jane Ambuko) who explained the operations of the various sections of the Hub.

The commissioning was graced by Deputy Vice Chancellor – Research, Innovation and Enterprise (Prof. Margaret Hutchinson); The Director of Research, Prof Justus Munyoki; The Faculty of Agriculture Management led by the acting Dean, Prof. Jonathan Nzuma, academic and non-academic staff from the Faculty of Agriculture and sister Faculties.

Apart from the internal (UON) stakeholders and the MRM team, the event was also attended by a delegation from the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) led by the Director of Crop Systems (Dr. Lusike Wasilwa) and the Principal Investigator of the Collaborative project that will operationalize the Hub (Dr. Mumina Shibia). Other key stakeholders and partners in Kenya’s horticulture sector represented at the event include International Center for Evaluation and Development (ICED), the implementing partner for USAID, the Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD), Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC), World Resources Institute (WRI), Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Technoserve Kenya, Food Banking Kenya, Retail Traders Association of Kenya (RETRAK)

In their remarks, all the speakers at the event lauded the industry-academia partnership that birthed the fresh produce Hub. The Vice Chancellor thanked the MRM team for supporting the initiative and urged them to explore more partnerships with the other faculties to co-create innovative solutions to challenges facing society today. The project coordinator, Prof. Ambuko challenged the stakeholders and partners present to scale up the model in other parts of Nairobi and other counties in a bid to link smallholder farmers to profitable markets while addressing the challenge of postharvest losses in horticultural value chains.  The stakeholders present reiterated their support to ensure that the initiative yielded the expected impact. In the efforts to expand and diversify markets for the smallholder horticultural farmers, Mr. Hosea Machuki, CEO Fresh Produce Exporters of Kenya (FPEAK) promised to work with the team to explore potential export market destination for AIVs in Minnesota, USA. 

Overall, the Hub is poised to be a game changer for smallholder farmers by linking them to diverse market outlets. This is expected to enhance profitability and reduce postharvest losses in horticultural value chains.