Mukurweini Food Hub in Nyeri, Kenya, will specialize in therapeutic food (vegetables, legumes), dried fruits and cereals. After using the precision harvesting technique, the products will be processed firstly by smart storage, solar drying and milling, and secondly by juicing, extraction, fortification and packaging.
The activity of precision harvesting will develop, implement, and test smart monitoring and control systems aimed at optimizing and standardizing timing and procedure of harvesting of crops and fruits in order to minimize losses at harvest and preserve the quality of the products. The system will comprise and harmonize the following: remote sensing tools (e.g., drones and weather station, such as AWS, with agro-meteorological sensors), telecommunication at local level (ICTs including IoT), monitoring centre (with data analysis and evaluation technologies), and mobile apps for end users.
For processing, smart storage systems will be developed and tested addressing both the post-harvest and post-processing phases and meeting the needs of individuals and small cooperatives (low-tech solutions); communities, and/or companies that may also require either long – or short – term storage, back-up contingencies, and overflow capacity by effectively optimizing storage parameters. Storage structures will be safe and easy to build locally and for the logistics chain from the producer to the final consumer. In addition, this task will assess the maturity parameters of agricultural products and the resulting storability indices (e.g. colour, firmness, water activity, pH, NIR spectra, sugar, acid and secondary metabolite content). This will prevent possible degradation and reduce food losses and waste.
Regarding the solar drying, the aim will be to reduce moisture content to the acceptable levels and, in so doing, prolonging shelf-life of the raw materials, ingredients, and food products, while preserving their quality and preventing spoilage and waste. The developed solar air dryers will target different food raw materials and enable smallholder producers to treat their products through scalable dryers built with low-cost materials, which are simple to operate, and are energy efficient.
In the case of milling processes, the aim is twofold. Firstly, these are implemented and tested to produce composite flours that combine food raw materials. For instance, introducing legumes into the complementary diet has the potential to improve childhood growth. Secondly, the work aims to optimize the particle size distribution so as to add value to the final blended flours. These will be formulated together with the SME partners taking care of nutritional and functional aspects to obtain healthy novel food products especially for children.
Suitable technologies for fruit juicing and extraction will be tested on local fruits (e.g., mangoes, pineapple, pomegranate, bananas). How to innovate traditional juicing technologies will also be focused on. The obtained fruit juices and target compounds from the by-products will be mixed with other ingredients to formulate and nutritionally enrich the novel foods (in this case, therapeutic foods) so as to optimize their production cost.
Bio-based packages that are able to preserve the functional and nutritional properties of the food products, reduce their contamination during storage (and transportation), and increase their marketability and attractiveness will be developed and tested. The availability of environmentally friendly, affordable, and optimal packaging materials, and technologies will be assessed, pre-selected, and tested at small scale for at least 4 relevant, specific food products. This is done so as to obtain high level quality maintenance during storage under different environmental conditions. Specifically, bio-based packaging materials will be assessed for suitability for packaging of therapeutic food.