The United Nations indicates that nine million people die of starvation annually, including three million children.
This translates to slightly above 24,000 deaths daily.
Against this backdrop, four young innovators from Kabarak University in Nakuru county have devised a solution to end world hunger by converting grass into edible starch.
This has already produced flour that can be used to make ugali and porridge.
NTV Kenya reported that 24-year-old Faith Wandia, a Master’s student of Business Administration and Finance, is the brainchild behind the project to end world hunger.
Her team comprising three others, Bahati Innocent, Salome Njeri and Edgar Ruto, started researching the project in 2020. But the breakthrough came in 2022.
“First, we were doing trial and error. We were trying to see what would work, so you ended up using a lot of enzymes to get the correct results,” Wandia explained, adding that shipping costs were also high.
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The four opted to convert cellulose abundantly in the grass from one chemical form to another to make it safe for human consumption.
They say that their reason for using grass is that it grows on 50 to 60 surface areas of the earth.
“So human beings can’t digest grass because we don’t have cellulose enzymes in our galactic tract. This means we cannot break down grass which is the main thing in the grass,” Bahati explained.
The main grass they use is Bermuda grass and Rye grass.
“You harvest the grass. You wash it to remove any contamination. We dry it before grinding it to become a cellulose powder, which we add in the enzymes to help break down the cellulose into starch, which is the same in maize,” Wandia said. .
The final product has to pass through the iodine test to check it then, weit is starch.
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“When I started this project, I had some things that I had to achieve at the end. I am so excited because, with this project, we will save so many lives,” Wandia added.
Kabarak University Coordinator of Innovation Wilson Balongo said they had started the process of protecting it with intellectual property.
“We have booked the process with the Kenya Industrial Property Institute, who have taken up the issue. We want to patent the product,” Balongo said.
According to the innovators, once the product has been approved for commercialisation, the cost of production for one kilogram of unga will be KSh 23, with the retail price standing at KSh 35.
The end goal is contributing to the United Nations’ sustainable goals of improved health and well-being, reducing hunger, and providing decent work and economic growth, among others.
Balongo said that one way of promoting grass growth and selling it would create employment.
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They also seek to reduce the percentage of people going to bed hungry by 10% (900 million globally) to 3% (70 million) by 2030.
“We encourage all the other innovators to receive any kind of support to help us achieve this platform,” Balongo explained.
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