The University of Nairobi (UoN) on Tuesday broke ground for the construction of a first-of-its-kind agricultural technology centre at the Upper Kabete campus.
The centre, known as the Kantaria Agricultural Technology and Innovation Centre (KATIC), is a multi-million dollar project being developed by the university in partnership with Elgon Kenya Limited.
The name Kantaria is derived from the late philanthropist and chairman of Elgon Kenya Ltd, Mr Rajnikant Kantaria, who was interested in projects and programmes that uplift people in the community.
Lauded the project
Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, lauded the project, saying it came at the right time when there was an increasing demand for agricultural products, driven by population growth.
According to Mudavadi, Kenya's population is estimated to hit the 55 million mark by the end of this year and there is a need to meet the rising demands of the rapidly growing population.
"To meet the rising demands of this fast growing population, we need to invest and increase agricultural production by a minimum percentage annually," he said.
He said the institutions that specialise in science, technology and innovation, such as KATIC, will enable more production for less, becoming the beacon of hope at this time when the country is facing economic hardship, climate change and land scarcity.
Through adaptation of agricultural technologies and innovation, Mr Mudavadi believes the country will be able to reduce the number of poor people by 1 per cent for every 2 per cent increase in crop productivity.
Mr Mudavadi said that once KATIC is operational, it will provide space for every Kenyan who wants to be part of the innovation world, adding that there is need to promote KATIC's research expertise in soil fertility management, crop protection and improvement, seedling technology and horticulture, animal production and health, and post-harvest loss prevention.
He called for greater collaboration between government institutions and the private sector, saying that universities are meant to provide education and training, but also conduct research to solve the problems that affect society.
Elgon Kenya Limited Managing Director Bimal Kantaria said they will donate between Sh50 million and Sh60 million to the university for the project which will be completed in the next 12 months.
Mr Kantaria said once the project is completed, more partners will be needed as there are several departments that will be needed in terms of capacity building, personnel, equipment and support.
Looking for partners
"Our concern is what will happen once the centre is ready, so we are also looking for partners. We want anyone who wants to partner with the university to be there," he said.
The Elgon Kenya MD urged the government to extend its support to the university as well, saying that once the project is completed, job opportunities will also be created.
UoN Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Gitahi Kiama noted that there has been persistent inadequate production of maize in the country, a crisis that can only be solved through partnership and by giving way to technology and innovation.
"The Kantara Agricultural Technology and Innovation Centre is one such initiative to try and address this huge gap that we have... we want to position this centre as a one-stop shop for all appropriate agricultural innovations and technologies in this country," said Prof Kiama.
He added that the project will contribute to the country's Vision 2030 in terms of food security and improved livelihoods.
Nation Media Group Chief Executive Officer Stephen Gitagama, was among the partners who attended the groundbreaking ceremony where the media was cited as a valuable link in the information chain.
UoN Chancellor Dr Vijoo Rattansi, French Ambassador to Kenya Arnaud Suquet and India's High Commissioner to Kenya Namgya Khampa graced the event.
Once completed, the centre will showcase cutting-edge agricultural technologies, incubate and accelerate the commercialisation of research results, provide extension services and facilitate capacity building through mentorship and tailor-made courses.