For an agricultural economist, Diana Asero, the BioInnovate Africa fellowship, with the guidance of Prof Arnold Onyango, gave her an in depth and hands-on experience in the process of product development and market surveys of value-added fruits and vegetable bioproducts from the Refractance window drier. In the four months that she spent at the Food and Technology Department of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and technology (JKUAT), Kenya, Diana was able to develop dried fruit snacks from papayas, pineapples, and mangoes. Additionally, she also carried out a market survey to gain customer feedback on the products. She describes her experience:
“Being a BioInnovate Africa Fellow has been quite an experience and eye opener for me. It has been an interesting journey where I have learnt a lot and also been able to contribute to the project where I was attached. I began my fellowship in JKUAT with the expectation of getting new knowledge and publishing a paper and I can confidently say that I have learnt and that my paper is already in progress”
In addition, Diana explains that her experimental research skills have improved with the constant interaction with other food science researchers and spending time developing dried food products such as mango, pineapple, and pawpaw. Her experience living and working in a different country and organization has been challenging but very interesting.
“My experience living and working in a different country and organization has been challenging but very interesting. I have had to learn to adapt to a different organizational culture here at JKUAT as well as the Kenyan social culture like learning a new language, Swahili. I have also been able to teach people here a few things about Uganda. Within these four months I have built a new social and professional network and built my skills and knowledge.”
Diana describes the lessons she has learned from the fellowship:
- Eastern Africa countries have similar problems, therefore, there is a need for sharing of different innovations that address these problems across countries
- Women play a critical role in food security, in particular food preservation, and this role should not be ignored
- Food preservation, as a strategy to deal with post-harvest loss, ensures a constant supply of seasonal foods like fruits and vegetables thus contributing to food security and poverty.
Diana completed her fellowship at the end of February 2018 and say that:
“This experience has given me exposure to different forms of fruit preservation. It has inspired me to think of business ideas in food preservation that I can implement. The next few months are going to be used to develop a PhD concept paper motivated by my experiences in the last four months”