Alumni use skills to improve horticultural waste

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Martha Opondo (left) and Dr Olaide Aderibigbe (right) presenting at the research symposium

As individuals and as collectives, alumni across Africa are using skills and knowledge acquired from Australia Awards to make significant and innovative change in their home countries.

Alumni from three countries are working across borders examining horticultural waste—mango in Kenya, citrus in Nigeria and banana in Uganda. It all began when 34 alumni participated in an Alumni Agricultural Symposium sponsored by the Australia Awards.

The symposium inspired Florence Olubayo to spearhead a group of alumni from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and apply for a $10,000 small grants project from Australia Awards to study horticultural waste management in the three countries. The group also negotiated a $10,000 matching grant from Base Titanium, Kenya for a situational analysis of horticultural waste use.

Florence next established a research consortium of nine alumni to push the project forward, including agricultural specialists from each country who had completed an Australia Awards Short Course on Increasing the Development Impact of Agricultural Research, University of Sydney (2016).

‘The objective is to improve horticultural waste management practices through collaboration and knowledge sharing,’ says Florence. ‘We’re now improving agricultural practices, increasing production and enhancing farmer livelihoods.’

The project focused on a fruit of vital importance to each country, one that produces major waste which could be used for greater good.

The alumni applied the knowledge they built in Australia, including through the Increasing Development Impact of Agricultural Research short course (Australia Awards 2016) conducted in Kenya by University of Sydney and the University of Nairobi. Learned techniques included designing solutions, examining implementation feedback, engaging stakeholders and setting research priorities.

Mango is Kenya’s third most important fruit, with production increasing by 400 per cent between 2002 and 2014 (FAOSTAT, 2017). Alumna Martha Akello Opondo, Research Scientist, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, says mango parts, like peels, seed stones and kernels, can be used to generate useful products, including human food and livestock feed products. Despite these opportunities, waste was continually generated through routine agronomic practices and poor husbandry and post-harvest handling.

A leading cash crop in Nigeria is citrus, with 4.09 million tonnes produced in 2017 (Knoema, 2018). Alumna Olaide Aderibigbe, Assistant Director of Research, National Horticultural Research Institute, says 30 per cent of citrus was wasted in 2000 alone due to post-harvest losses and about 50 per cent of fruits are lost in transit.  ‘These huge losses can be avoided with effective post-harvest waste management and re-use techniques,’ says Olaide.

Alumna Justine Onyinge, Research Consultant, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Uganda, says banana is a leading staple food and cash crop in his country. Indeed, Uganda is the world’s biggest plantain producer—4.3 million tonnes per year on average (FAO, 2017). Some estimates suggest the country generates more than three million tonnes of banana waste every year (Tumutegyereize et al., 2011).

Situational analysis revealed unique challenges across countries. In Kenya, a low rate of adopting agricultural technology needed to be tackled. Nigeria found poor uptake of research findings, leaving farmers and small-to-medium processors without the benefit of modern techniques. Uganda grappled with the lack of knowledge and skillsets needed to manage and dispose of waste.

Work across all countries included conducting desk reviews, designing data collection tools, collecting and analysing data, and holding workshops, seminars and training sessions. Reports on results informed next steps.

‘The solutions to challenges varied across countries but all had positive outcomes,’ says Florence.

Alumni in Kenya, for example, presented a scientific paper on results at the AGRO 2019 Conference hosted by the University of Nairobi. They developed communications tools that were distributed to farmers and mango traders explaining how to reduce and manage mango waste.

One situation analysis finding in Nigeria was that waste was disposed of in open fields where it rotted, negatively affecting the environment and people’s health. New technologies for reducing and recycling waste are being used, including composting in chambers, controlling fruit flies with local traps, and storing fruit in zero evaporative cooling chambers.

In Uganda, banana waste use, disposal and management were examined in detail, including through field surveys. Results led to improved and innovative techniques. One local government, for example, began properly disposing of banana waste generated in a local market. Small-scale entrepreneurs then used that waste to make briquettes for households, reducing their need to buy fuel wood.

An example of the power of collective leadership, the project continues to have a positive impact. In Nigeria the project team developed a guide to demonstrate to farmers how to use waste from oranges to make compost. In Kenya, the team sensitised farmers and traders who are now managing mango waste by reducing it or using it to make other products.

‘This shared project is a shining example of the collective contributions alumni are making in their home countries, in organisations, ministries and through advocacy groups and coalitions of change,’ says Florence. ‘It highlights the power of partnerships in developing countries.’

Photo Credit: Group photo at the research symposium

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