learning questions research

at the agricultural show: reflections on research to action

A few weeks back I went to the agricultural show in Kisii town in Western Kenya as part of an exhibit combining soapstone sculptures (something Kisii is famous for) and rock art. I had the chance to walk around to other exhibits, and this time I was more interested than in my younger days when we’d go to the show.

The tea stand, I have always loved. If you didn’t know, Kenya produces the best tea in the world (and the best coffee too, alongside Ethiopia). The stand is always organised to walk people through the whole process of tea making from the seedling nursery to the packaged product. But the part I loved the most was where they were experimenting with making teas in a different way in order to appeal to niche markets abroad- I had a discussion with the gentleman there about why they should also sell them locally and not just abroad. Instead of the tear, cut and roll (TCR) method usually used, these teas are simply rolled. If you’re used to the finely macerated tea leaves common in shops in Kenya, these will at first look strange, but you get used to it, and perhaps eventually like them.

various (fancy) Kenyan teas at the show

I also learnt how they make green teas. One of the steps in making black tea is letting the leaves oxidise. But if you let green tea oxidise it’ll no longer be green tea. So they steam it to denature the enzymes and then continue with the rest of the process.

The other thing that really impressed was the university stand that had students exhibiting things they had created in class. There was for example a water purification model designed to be used by car wash businesses. Car washes here are an informal business. In Kisii, they get water from rivers, clean cars and let the water run back into the rivers. Students tested this run off for trace heavy metals and found some- lead, chromium etc. Using this model made of layers of sand, charcoal or activated carbon, cotton or cellulose and gravel they purified the water and allowed it to run back into the river less polluted. The governor of the region had been at the stand last year when they first exhibited it and was so impressed he decided to adopt it for use in all the carwashes in the town.

I was both impressed and happy that their research had moved to action- something I have been thinking a lot about recently: how reaserch moves into action. Some people do research to do research, but I think most people would want the research they do to become actualised, to *do* something, to be used and useful to the world. This was an example of that.

Apparently agricultural shows are not all boring (when you’re older?)

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