International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated annually on 11 February. The day promotes full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, on the premise that harnessing all talent will contribute to tackling the greatest challenges of the Agenda for Sustainable Development. Diversity in research expands the pool of talented researchers, bringing in fresh perspectives, talent, and creativity.
At BioInnovate Africa, women are actively involved in bioscience research and innovation. Their projects foster a sustainable bioeconomy. On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Dr Samira Mohamed who leads BioInnovate Africa supported project on Promoting post-harvest disinfestation of horticultural crops using hot water treatment method, narrates how she is using science to help farmers and agro-processors meet the phytosanitary standards for pest free Mango exports to the European market. Dr Mohamed and her team at icipe, have developed protocols for hot water treatment of East African fruits and vegetables, which assure export of pest free and safe fruits with longer shelf-life.
What motivated the development of hot water treatment technology?
The devastating effects of the invasive fruit fly species Bactrocera dorsalis in the whole of Africa, led to restricted access to regional and international export markets for affected horticultural crops, as they are classified as quarantine pests. Motivated by our research in post-harvest treatments using hot water technology, we were able to fill the gap in research for treatment of commodities such as mango, bell pepper and French beans emanating from Africa. The technology addresses the needs of governments, exporters and women and youth who constitute the majority in the horticulture sector, particularly the fruits and vegetable value chain.
Why should fruit exporters like your technology?
Hot water technology presents an eco-friendly and affordable method of treating fruit and vegetables from quarantine pests such as fruit flies (in mangoes), false codling moth (in bell pepper) and thrips (in french beans). The technology has been certified by the regulatory body in Kenya (KEPHIS) and recognised by the European Union (EU) as an acceptable treatment for mangoes emanating from Kenya. This provides adequate confidence to exporters eager to break into the lucrative export markets. The treatment has been shown scientifically that it does not affect the physical and chemical properties of the mango and may enhance the quality of treated fruit. Consumers are assured of chemical free fruits and vegetables, free from pests.
What opportunities do you see for the future of the technology?
Producing and retailing safe food has led to greater demand for pesticide free fruits and vegetables. Stringent legislation and consumer preferences have also strengthened research into postharvest treatments, which are affordable and safe to the user and consumer. We are building capacity of users of the technology and improving it to be in harmony with user preferences, experiences, and markets as they evolve. The application of hot water treatment technology is wide and requires further exploration for extension to other fresh commodities in order to make the most out of the hot water treatment equipment.