Four students from Kabarak University have invented ugali flour made from grass, which, if approved for commercial sale, will retail at Ksh35 per kilo.
The idea is the brainchild of Faith Wandia, a Master's Degree in Business Administration, who was motivated by the number of people succumbing to hunger as drought ravages the country.
Wandia thought about converting the food component found in grass, cellulose, into edible starch to curb the food deficit.
In 2020, she assembled a team comprising Innocent Bahati (Clinical Medicine), Salome Njeri (Economics) and Edgar Ruto (Computer Science) to actualise her dream.
"Yes, we harvest grass and turn it into edible starch. We started with numerous trials and errors to establish what would work. Sometimes we would get glucose instead of starch," Wandia told NTV.
Grass was a cheaper option due to its availability. The team uses Bermuda and Ryegrass, which takes between two to three months to maturity.
Harvested grass is then dried and crushed into a powder. However, Bahati explained that it needed to go through a scientific process to make it fit for human consumption.
"Human beings don't have the cellulase enzyme to break down cellulose.
"We add water and enzymes to the mix, and cellulose is converted to amylose - almost similar to the starch found in maize," he explained.
During the process, the powder loses its green colour to an almost white. Bahati added that the texture and smell are similar to maize flour.
A product sample then undergoes the iodine test to check the presence of starch.
Once approved for commercialisation, the item will trade at Ksh35, factoring in the cost of producing a kilogram of the flour (Ksh23 per kilo) plus other expenses.
According to Wilson Balongo, the innovations coordinator at Kabarak University, the team tabled their application with the Kenya Industrial property institute to patent the product.
Medics and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) are yet to address the innovation.