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Using science to feed a nation

by The Concordian January 12, 2012

Scientist Matthew Harsh explored the human side of agricultural engineering on Tuesday in the first Engineering and Computer Science lecture of the year entitled “Biotechnology in Africa: surveying systems of innovation for development.”

An expert in the field of innovation and governance of biotechnology and biosafety, Harsh spoke to a small audience in the EV building about his time spent in Kenya working as part of a research team trying to create a tissue culture banana that would spur the growth of bananas for farmers in Kenya.

The goal was to use technology as a solution to the insecure food situation in Kenya. However, some problems did arise during their research.

“We hadn’t really thought about what we were going to do with this excess amount of bananas,” said Harsh, explaining that the Kenyan markets in proximity to these banana farmers are too small to deal with extra crops. “And it wasn’t easy to convince the farmers because they also didn’t want this many bananas.”

Eschewing the more technical scientific aspects, Harsh focused instead on the innovation of his research in Kenya and the sociology revolving around it. The process of securing funding for projects like this and getting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved are all critical steps when conducting research of this nature, according to Harsh.

In his case, it was the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) that played an important role in making Harsh’s team’s project possible.

Banana surpluses aside, Harsh said that the real success of their research was the links he and his team managed to make within the Kenyan society.

“This project was a success in linkage, meaning we got a lot of people to work together to make something happen,” said Harsh. “It’s hard work to get everyone to agree to interact and also agree on a project.”

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