A recent report from the Kenya Food Security Steering Group showed that at least 1.4 million people in the country are facing acute hunger.
This was attributed to the severe drought in different parts of the country attributed to low levels of rainfall which cause poor harvests and declining livestock condition.
However, in a bid to end world hunger, four students from Kabarak University are converting grass to edible starch which can make Ugali.
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Here is their story as told by WoK.
The project is led by 24-year-old Faith Wandia, a Masters student of Business Administration in Finance.
She heads a team of three others namely Bahati Innocent, a medic student, Salome Njeri who is pursuing economics and Edgar Ruto who is taking a course in computer science.
Challenges and breakthrough
In an interview on NTV, Wandia noted that she started researching the project in 2020, two years before their breakthrough.
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She also spoke on challenges they faced in the long run which include failed trials and high cost of the requisite resources.
“At first we were doing trial and error hust to see what will work so you end up losing a lot of funds because you may try it doesn’t work and you have to start again by purchasing the enzymes and also the shipping cost is really high,” Wandia said.
Process of making flour
With the growing need of a permanent solution to address hunger, Wandia and her team decided to convert cellulose which is found in grass from one form to another to produce starch.
“We harvest the grass, wash it to remove any contamination and we dry it depending on what source you want to use (sun or electricity). We then grind it to powder before adding our enzymes,” she explained.
Innocent explained that the grass must be grinded to make it safe for human consumption.
“Human beings can’t digest grass because we don’t have the enzyme cellulose in our gastrointestinal tract and since we don’t have that enzyme we can’t digest cellulose in grass which is the main thing in grass,” he said.
When the grinded grass reacts with the enzymes, distilled water is added to the cellulose before it’s passed through iodine to check starch.
Interestingly, the end product has the same texture and smell as maize flour.
“We have the necessary temperature, pressure and conditions for the reaction to occur. The ground grass itself is already at its ideal state in which it can react
“We add distilled water and the necessary enzymes and it’s converted to amylose, the starch which is almost the same as the one in maize,” Innocent explained.
The students are waiting certification from Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) before they rollout mass production of the product.
They have also patented the product with the Kenya Industrial Property Institute which administers Intellectual Property rights.
If approved by KEBS, the maize flour made from grass will retails for Ksh 35 per kilo with the production cost capped at Ksh 23 per kilo.
Wandia noted that coming up with this product will help reduce the number of deaths caused by hunger and the number of people going to bed hungry.
“When I started doing this project I had goals that I wanted to achieve. I know with this product, we’re going to save a lot of lives,” she said.