By Gift Briton

BioInnovate Africa project and its partners in Eastern Africa have released new biobased products which are expected to boost food and nutritional security in Africa.

According to a BioInnovate Africa e- newsletter titled Enhancing bioeconomy growth prospects in Eastern Africa, these products include Nutreal, Unique Eats, Senai seeds, OKOA Mushroom Blocks, and refractance window dryer (RWD).

The products were developed between January and March 2022 through collaboration between scientists in the public and private sectors in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Nutreal. Photo credits: BioInnovate

Nutreal is food enriched with insect-based proteins that comprise new cricket-enriched cookies and instant porridge flour in Kenya and Uganda.

It was developed through collaboration between scientists from Makerere University, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), Agrarian Systems Limited, and Treasure Industries Limited (TIL).

According to icipe, the cricket-fortified porridge contains up to 17 times more vitamin B5, almost one and a half times more vitamin B9 and twelve times more vitamin B12 than the commercially available brands. The porridge also contains three essential omega-3 fatty acids.

Furthermore, although the predominant African porridge cereals, like sorghum and finger millet, are rich in carbohydrates, they are extremely low in energy and nutrient densities partly because they contain anti–nutrient compounds that block the absorption of certain essential nutrients in the body.

To counter the anti-nutrient factors in finger millet and amaranth, icipe first fortified finger millet with high-quality nutrients from an edible African cricket known as Scapsipedus icipe (a widely farmed cricket across Kenya that was discovered by icipe in 2018 as a new species in science) and the grain of amaranth, an indigenous vegetable that is widely grown across the continent.

Scientists then tested several traditional grain processing techniques including sun drying, roasting, germination and fermentation and found out that germination and fermentation techniques improve the availability of nutrients in the two grains, with the study resulting in a “flavour-full, cricket-fortified porridge flour that has twice as much protein, three to four times more crude fat and double the amount of iron and zinc.”

OFSP Puree photo credits: BioInnovate

Unique Eats, another product unveiled by BioInnovate project partners, are food nutritionally enhanced with orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) puree.

According to the International Potato Center(CIP), OFSP puree is a functional ingredient for the bakery industry and can be used in making delicious chapatis, bread, and mandazis.

Furthermore, the Potato Center adds that OFSP is an effective and sustainable source of vitamin A, with the potential to significantly contribute to the fight against vitamin A deficiency in Africa.

OFSP puree can replace some of the white, wheat flour in baked and fried products. Furthermore, incorporating puree would significantly increase the number of OFSP consumers and reduce vitamin deficiency with several partners involved in the development of the product including Euro Ingredients Limited (EIL) (Kenya) International Potato Center (CIP) (Kenya), Hawassa University (Ethiopia), and Makerere University (Uganda).

Senai seeds. Photo credits: BioInnovate

Senai seeds, another new biobased product, are clean sweet potato vines produced for sweet potato farmers in East Africa.

They were developed through a collaboration between Makerere University (Uganda), Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) (Kenya), SENAI Farm Supplies Limited (Uganda), MIMEA International Kenya Limited (Kenya), Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI)- Mikocheni, and Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB).

Another product is the OKOA Mushroom Blocks which are nutrient-rich substrates blocks for the production of mushrooms.

According to BioInnovate, mushrooms are not only nutrient-rich and a good source of protein, but their production also reduces environmental pollution.

However, mushroom production in East Africa is characterized by poor access to substrates, minimal value addition, inadequate standard packaging and more.

Therefore, the ready-to-use standardized substrate blocks are being commercially produced and sold to mushroom farmers thereby minimizing the initial, lengthy and laborious traditional processes used to prepare substrates.

Partners involved in the development of the product include Tanzania Industrial Research and Development Organisation (TIRDO), OKOA Enterprises (Tanzania), and Global Agro Concept Limited (Rwanda).

A refractance window dryer (RWD) is used for the commercial drying of fruits and vegetables. The technology keeps fresh fruits and vegetables’ full nutritional contents after their typical shelf life. It dehydrates fresh whole foods and gently extracts water from the foods while preserving vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.

Partners involved in the development of the equipment include Makerere University, Uganda, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), TONNET Agro-engineering company Limited (Uganda), East Africa Nutraceuticals Ltd (EAN) (Kenya), Food and Nutrition Solutions Ltd (FONUS) (Uganda), and Uganda Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives.