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June 6, 2024

Day

UCU alum’s innovation reduces post-harvest losses

UCU

By Kefa Senoga
In 2017, the father of Jean Paul Nageri planted more than 100 acres of bananas in Busia, eastern Uganda. As is usually the norm, towards harvest time, a middleman promised to buy all the bananas at harvest. The harvest time came, but the middleman never showed up. The result? Most of the bananas either got rotten in the garden or were sold at a give-away price.

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The pain of that loss was so unbearable for Nageri that the next year, he was in the laboratory, working out a solution to mitigate the gravity of the depletion his father suffered. He suspected there was a solution, but did not know exactly what it was. And the tests in the laboratory led him to something that was more like putting into practice the course he had studied at Uganda Christian University (UCU), where he received a Bachelor of Agricultural Science and Entrepreneurship

Nageri explaining his innovation at a conference.
Nageri explaining his innovation at a conference.

Nageri sought to extend the shelf life of many fruits and vegetables by slowing down their rate of spoilage while being kept at room temperature without any form of refrigeration – a move that democratizes food storage and removes barriers to enable everyone to keep food fresh, regardless of whether you have a cold room or not. In Uganda, room temperature is about 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit).

So, how does Nageri’s innovation work?

He explained that using the skins of oranges, mangoes, bananas and other fruits in the lab, he was able to extract compounds, which he later turned into powder. The powder is blended with water, which is then used for coating the fruits and vegetables. The coating, which he has named Ka Fresh and is produced by his firm, Sio Valley Technologies, is edible.

“Most of the knowledge I am applying now is what I obtained in class at the university,” he said. “I am working with other scientists who are also applying the same knowledge in biotechnology.”

Nageri with his jam products during his university days
Nageri with his jam products during his university days

For this innovation, Sio Valley Technologies was early this year awarded the Most Innovative Export company at the third annual Uganda/EU Business Summit. Nageri received the award from Uganda’s Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja. The Head of the European Union Delegation to Uganda, Ambassador Jan Sadek, was also present at the awards gala.  

The World Food Program estimates that as of last year, more than 333 million people in the world were facing acute levels of food insecurity; they did not know where their next meal would come. The situation is compounded by the fact that the cost of delivering food assistance was at an all-time high because of the increase in the prices of food and fuel.

Despite the hunger situation, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 30-40% of total food production is lost before it reaches the market. But with the Ka Fresh solution, Nageri aims to overcome this challenge, so that farmers can have more bargaining power over their produce while in the market without fear of it getting rotten while on the shelf.

Some fruits and vegetables that have been coated with Nageri’s solution, he says, are now able to stay fresh for up to three times their natural shelf life. Nageri says tests in the laboratory have indicated that tomatoes that have been coated with Ka Fresh, for example, are able to stay for more than 70 days under room temperature without refrigeration.

UCU’s Nageri Develops Air Freight Solution

Nageri’s innovation should come as good news for exporters who are currently scratching their heads for solutions to the rising cost of air freight. Currently, according to the World Bank, it costs 12 to 16 times more to transport a commodity through air than sea and yet exporters opt for air transport because some commodities cannot last the more than 30 days it takes most of the ships to travel from African ports to Europe.

The journey to the Ka Fresh innovation saw Nageri team up with a friend, Lorna Orubo, to make tomato jam as a student at UCU and then mayonnaise, as his final-year project to meet the requirements for the award of his degree.

 “If you are building the right solution to a challenge, capital will always follow you and the right people will always want to surround themselves with you,” Nageri says, noting that for now, he is more focused on fine-tuning his innovation than looking at what he stands to benefit from it.