Kenya Borlaug Fellow Gains Insight on Helping Local Farmers

  |   Feature

“Our dream is to be part of upgrading the living standards of small-scale farmers who produce the foods that go into Azuri products, in a sustainable and profitable way,” - Tei Mukunya, CEO of Azuri Health Limited, Kenya

A common challenge among small-scale farmers in developing countries is getting their products from the farm to markets. Tei Mukunya, the CEO of a health foods company in Kenya, believes her recent participation in USDA’s Borlaug Fellowship Program will help her address this issue in her country.

For nearly 10 years, the Borlaug program has helped developing countries strengthen sustainable agricultural practices by providing U.S.-based training and research opportunities to visiting agricultural policymakers and researchers. Mukunya recently finished a 12-week fellowship at Michigan State University to study the latest solar drying technology. Her company uses the technology to make organic health foods.

Azuri currently has 20 solar drying facilities within East Africa that are each used by 40 to 50 farmers. The facilities dry trays of produce in an enclosed, sterile area (like a greenhouse) at low temperatures over a long period of time. The produce retains its nutritional value and has a longer shelf life, which reduces losses for the farmers.

At MSU, Mukunya created her own research plan, toured facilities and met with faculty members. She attended a Biosystems Engineering graduate class to develop a case study and potential solutions on how Azuri could dry its produce more efficiently.  Mukunya said the Borlaug fellowship equipped her with new knowledge and ideas she can use to improve her facilities in Kenya and ultimately add value to the local farmers’ products. 

“Participating in the program will help us streamline our process, increase productivity among our farmers and increase the quality of our products,” she said. 

Mukunya said she appreciates the support USDA staff gave during her fellowship. She wrapped up her fellowship by traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with staff members from USDA, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank. 

“I talked to people to better understand their programs and gained insight from their point of view on how international markets will develop, especially in Kenya. We believe that through partnership, there are unlimited opportunities.”  

Since the Borlaug program’s inception in 2004, more than 500 agricultural professionals from 64 developing countries have received training.