Agricultural cooperation with China to improve food security in Kenya
By Globalbiz

A partnership in agriculture between China and Kenya is yielding positive results aimed at increasing crop yields and improving food security in the country. 

The China-Kenya Joint Laboratory for Crop Molecular Biology, based in Egerton University's Confucius Institute, was built in 2016. In 2019, it became one of the first Belt and Road joint laboratories approved by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China.  

Over the last two decades, Kenya has seen a sharp decline in crop production due to several factors including drought. But farmers are hoping for a better crop yield this year, devoid of disease and more rain.

At the laboratory located in Kenya's Rift Valley region, Benard Karanja, a lecturer at Egerton University, is trying to solve that problem. He is extracting DNA from local vegetables to screen genes that may potentially control pests and diseases.  

"If you are able to know which plants can withstand pests and diseases and stress such as heat stress and water stress, you can then advise farmers to have a good choice of the plant so that they can maximize their yield. This is one of the most important machines we have in Egerton," Karanja said. 

The machine can give real time gene analysis when exposed to different conditions. It is one of only two in the country, the result of a partnership between China's Nanjing Agricultural University and Egerton University.  

"We have a modern lab with very unique equipment, and this has enabled students and staff to carry out research in rare areas of molecular plant breeding," said Joshua Ogweno, director of Confucius Institute in Egerton University, terming the lab one of the major contributions of the collaboration. 

Edith Obara is doing her master's degree in agronomy. She said she was evaluating different seed varieties, "the ones that have been forgotten," and her research could help eliminate food insecurity by increasing the production of some crops.

The lab is considered one of the most advanced laboratories on crop molecular biology in the region. The collaboration with China involves a skills and technology transfer process as well as funding, aimed at helping the country address food insecurity. In another section of the lab, Steven Githeng'u, a lecturer at Egerton University, is carrying out research on the regeneration of plants.

Thanks to the advanced facilities and technology now in place, Egerton University will host a center for genetic engineering and technology, the first such center outside China.

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