Lecturer improves food security in Kenya

Dr Josphert Kimatu is a passionate man who has devoted his life to improving food security in his country through innovative research.

A well-regarded lecturer at the South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU), Dr Kimatu believes that collaborative genomic research and post-harvest management strategies are central to solving the nagging food insecurity facing communities in Machakos County, Kenya, where he lives and works.

“Maize is a staple food in my region, which has faced outbreaks of aflatoxin poisoning. Aflatoxin is a highly poisonous cancer-causing chemical produced by a fungus that thrives as a result of poor drying and storage practices of maize grain,” Dr Kimatu explains.

“The occasional outbreaks have resulted in several people being hospitalised and others dying. Between 2004 and 2006, an estimated 200 people lost their lives in Kenya due to this issue.”

The desire to find a lasting solution to this issue compelled Dr Kimatu to join the Australia Awards – Africa Fellowship on Post-harvest Management of Maize, Rice and Legumes in 2012. While in Australia, he conducted a literature review on aflatoxin mitigation and had the opportunity to collaborate with several experts and practitioners in the field.

On his return, Dr Kimatu partnered with his lecturer to publish a paper in the Greener Journal of Agricultural Sciences on the significant role of post-harvest management in farm management, aflatoxin mitigation and food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

Through his membership of the Machakos County Development Forum (MCDF), Dr Kimatu championed the adoption of small-scale metal silos to enhance food security in the region. To date, Dr Kimatu has reached over 250 farmers in different engagements through the MCDF.

Dr Kimatu is currently teaching five Masters students, one of whom is researching aflatoxin mitigation strategies. Four of the students are Agricultural Extension Officers in the region, whose work involves training and advising farmers in their day-to-day activities.

“Through these officers, I can now reach many farmers indirectly, further promoting the use of the proper storage of maize in the region,” Dr Kimatu says.

In addition to maize storage research, Dr Kimatu is also researching genomic resistance by correlating and ranking maize kernel variations with Aspergillus flavus resistance on high-yielding maize varieties that can grow well in the region. This is joint research funded by the Australia Awards Small Grants Scheme, co-funded and conducted in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).

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