Prof. Daniel Sila
Associate Professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, JKUAT, and currently the Dean for School of Food and Nutrition Sciences
What we eat matters and Prof. Daniel Sila, a specialist in Food and Nutrition Sciences, is keenly aware of that. “Early in the ’80s and ’90s, there were a lot of people that had goitre, which is swelling of the thyroid glands, because of a lack of iodine,” he begins. In response, the government then made it mandatory for all the factories producing salt to be iodized. As a result, cases of goitre reduced significantly across the country. It is so important, emphasizes Prof. Daniel, for us to think of food in diverse ways. Common staples, if fortified, can be an important vehicle to healthier diets that are accessible to all.
“Innovations should not just remain in the university,” he argues. For him, the excitement of being an Associate Professor and Dean of Food and Nutrition Sciences at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, JKUAT, is the ability to work in research as well as education and mentorship. He leads a number of projects including the European Union funded food fortification project and partnering with the Ministry of Health.
The aim is to ensure that all the maize flour in the country is fortified with micronutrients of public health concern. Micronutrient deficiency in Kenya also remains a major problem as indicated by the most recent Kenya Demographic Health Survey. Both long term and short term solutions are needed including consumption of nutritious foods such as legumes that are locally available in the Kenyan market. In that premise, JKUAT launched the Legume Centre of Excellence for Food and Nutrition Security where the tactic is multi pronged: legume breeding, legume post-harvest handling and value addition, legume in nutrition and health, and a cross-cutting project that considers how Information and Communications Technology can be used to increase legume utilization.
Threaded through the work that Prof. Daniel does, is the importance of capacity building for younger scholars. In the Legume Centre of Excellence program alone, there are seven PhD students and seventeen Masters students all gaining hands-on, practical experience in food and nutrition security. But beyond JKUAT, Prof. Daniel is adamant that the lessons learned in research must be shared amongst different institutions as well as to the general public. “Innovation must reach out and be disseminated to people. In such a way that it will be able to be used to create the change desired by local and even national government,” he stresses. This is why much of Prof. Daniel’s recent work is tailored research, where his work addresses very specific local issues.
The largest hindrance in food and nutrition security in Kenya, in Dr. Daniel’s expert opinion, is the lack of a strong food processing and preservation industry. Postharvest losses are as high as 40 to 60% for most fresh produce. This is especially a problem in fruits and vegetable, cereals and legumes. This general lack of value addition can be found throughout food processing and Dr. Daniel is equipping people to tackle it.
His latest project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, has been working with mango farmers in five Counties where he assists in value addition of mangoes including product certification by KEBS. Knowledge sharing about food and nutrition is saving lives and economies, and people like Prof. Daniel are ensuring that county by county, farmers are equipped to push for these changes.