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Kenya, China work together on research

By Lucie Morangi | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2017-07-23 15:18

Erick Kiptoo, just back from more than two years of training at Donghua University in Shanghai, is a beneficiary of the ongoing collaboration between the Chinese institution and Moi University, in Kenya's Rift Valley, which operates the first Confucius Institute focusing on textile engineering and fashion design.

Kiptoo believes his return will stimulate innovation at Rivatex East Africa, the university's facility for research, product development, extension and production.

This strongly complements the government's efforts to reverse the fortunes of the sector, which has been experiencing lean times.

"Kenya's textile sector was vibrant three decades ago," says Kiptoo. "The decline, caused by industrial reforms, underinvestment and heavy importation of secondhand clothes, subsequently discouraged players in the value chain - from the farmers, who have stopped farming cotton, to millers, many of whom have closed shop."

This also had an impact on the number of graduates leaving colleges. Several learning institutions chose to abandon textile-related courses for other marketable programs.

"But Moi university has continued offering this course amid the challenges. The collaboration with the Confucius Institute has definitely helped support it," says Kiptoo, a graduate of textile engineering at both Moi University and Donghua University, where he received a master's degree.

With the government eager to give the sector a new lease on life, skilled workers are urgently needed.

"The global textile and apparel landscape has transformed and become more competitive based on quality, price and efficiency along the value chain," Kiptoo says. "So we need technology that will enable us to catch up with countries such as Bangladesh. China is offering us this opportunity."

He was among five Kenyans taking textile-related courses at Donghua University. Moreover, his class had many African students, especially from West and North Africa. "This is an indicator of how seriously Africa wants to accelerate economic development through industrialization, and the continent is turning to China. China is indeed a friend in our time of need."

The graduate has resumed his job at Rivatex. But this time, his focus is research on alternative fabric that can complement cotton.

"We are looking at alternative sources such as sisal, coconut and silk among other fiber crops," Kiptoo says. "We would like food production and the textile sector to complement each other."

He says China is highly advanced in textile-related research, giving the country an advantage in the global market. "Innovation is driving the industry, and that is what we would like to emulate here."

Kiptoo is also interested in silk production, an area in which China is renowned.

Eric Oyondi Nganyi, an alumnus of Donghua University who is the head of manufacturing, industrial and textile engineering at Moi University, confirms that research into this subsector has intensified recently.

Collaboration on imports of silkworm eggs from China is being explored, he says. "Silk is the queen of fibers. It has a very high price tag. We can leverage on the ongoing cooperation between the two universities to do further research."

He says the successful revival of the sector will inject $2 billion into the nation's economy within three years.

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