Kenya’s burgeoning dairy industry, boasting an annual production of 652.4 million litters of milk, faces a significant challenge with antibiotic residue in its products. However, Egerton University in Kenya is spearheading ground-breaking research to combat this issue at the grassroots level.
Antibiotic resistance has surged as a critical global health threat, acknowledged by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in November 2021. WHO attributes this surge to the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in various treatments, including everyday antiseptics, antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitic agents.
This pressing issue has urged urgent, multi-sectoral action, especially concerning the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals related to food safety, security, nutrition, and sustainable agriculture, set to be achieved by 2030.
Kenya’s Dairy Board reports a significant annual milk production, contributing an estimated 22.6 billion Kenyan shillings (about $151 million) to producers. However, the sector grapples with challenges stemming from predominantly unregulated small-scale producers and the presence of antibiotic residue, linked to certain animal husbandry practices.
Teresiah Ndung’u, director for livestock production in Nyandarua County and a doctoral student at Egerton University, is at the forefront of addressing this issue. Her research aims to enhance food safety not just in Kenya but across East Africa.
Ndung’u’s inspiration arose from her involvement in a project addressing quality-based milk payment systems. She identified antibiotic residues as a significant challenge for processors and consumers alike. Her discovery of a reagent capable of detecting micro-organism resistance became a pivotal moment in her research.
“In our milk collection system, testing costs are exorbitant, exceeding 300 Kenyan shillings ($2) per test,” she stated, emphasising the need for cost-effective solutions accessible to farmers and processors.
Ndung’u’s objective is clear: empowering farmers and processors to identify antibiotic residues at the farm level before they enter the food value chain.
Her work, supported by a scholarship funded by the World Bank International Development Association (IDA) through Egerton University’s Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture and Agribusiness Management, has provided the necessary resources and support.
“I registered it under the Kenya Industrial Properties Institute, and now I have a certificate as an owner of a utility model. I hope that after my graduation, I will be able to patent it,” Ndung’u added, expressing her aspiration to scale up this solution for broader market impact.
Transformative solutions for safer milk production
The Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence Project (ACE II) has played a pivotal role in enhancing higher education institutions’ capacity for quality post-graduate education and collaborative research. Kenya, among eight countries hosting 24 ACEs, has been a beneficiary, focusing on critical areas such as industry, agriculture, health, education, and applied statistics.
Ndung’u acknowledged the existence of testing solutions for antimicrobial resistance in the market but highlighted their unaffordability for small-scale farmers, constituting an estimated 80% of Kenya’s milk producers.
Her pursuit of a cost-effective, farmer-centric solution marks a significant stride toward safeguarding food safety and tackling antimicrobial resistance, underscoring the importance of accessible innovations to protect both consumers and producers in Kenya’s dairy industry.
The innovative strides made by Ndung’u and Egerton University stand as a beacon of hope in the global battle against antimicrobial resistance and its implications for food safety and public health.