Kenyan scientists are learning from their Rwandan counterparts how to use a technology used in the mining sector to test and analyse mineral content of food crops that will ultimately assist them develop nutritious crops and reduce hidden hunger, a situation that affect over 4million Kenyans.
Hidden hunger is the lack of vitamins and minerals, such as zinc and iron, in the diet. In Kenya it affects over 4 million people according to statistics from the Ministry of Public Health in a sorry trend exemplified globally where over 2 billion people are affected. The common mineral deficiency in Kenya is iron affecting over 2million Kenyans and can inhibit physical and mental development in children while increasing the risk for women of dying in childbirth
The new technology dubbed X-ray fluorescence, XRF, generates X-rays of different colours to indicate the presence, and concentration, of elements such as iron and zinc. It is quick to display results, and each sample costs just Sh10 to analyse, compared to Sh2000 for other chemical analysis technologies in the country.
With little training, scientists can analyze more samples per day using XRF without the lengthy and complex sample preparation currently required. The seed samples are not destroyed and can be planted immediately, thus accelerating the breeding process.
Kenyan scientists aware of the benefits the technology has for their local efforts to enhance food security, have been pitching tent in Rwanda to borrow a leaf. “We have many technologies locally that seeks to identify nutrients in crops and soils, but they are either tedious, takes a lot of time before the tests are done, and the ones that are faster are prohibitively expensive and farmers cant afford them,”said Windo Kambi a Kenyan scientist who was recently in Rwanda.
In Kenya just like in Rwanda, beans are regarded as a near-perfect food as they contain many important nutrients, and between 22 to 30 per cent of arable land across the country is currently used to grow them.
Kenyan team has now been trained to use XRF to analyse three varieties of bio-fortified beans – climbing, bush and snap beans which are predominant in the country.
Kenyan farmers face difficult challenges in deciding which crop variety to continue growing. They need to choose crop varieties that have a high likelihood of survival and that will have a high yield. The communities that these farmers provide crops for also have needs. Their need is focused on the access to nutritious crops that contain high concentrations of minerals such as zinc and iron. It is easy for farmers to see which crop varieties with the largest vegetative organs and the ones that survives longest, but how do farmers discover which crops are the most nutritious? They can’t simply look at each plant to find their nutritional content. This is where the X ray technology comes in handy.
Written by Alvinah Kamwaga for African Laughter
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