Food process engineer Kehinde Adekunbi Taiwo has spent decades working to enrich local food products in her native Nigeria to bring the benefits of leafy greens to a larger population through food engineering.
Taiwo, who is a Professor of Food Engineering in the Department of Food Science and Technology (FST) at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Ile-Ife, Nigeria says southwest Nigeria has an abundance of leafy vegetables many of which are undomesticated and therefore under researched, but she and her team have found ways to bring their health benefits to many Nigerians.
“My team have explored the utilization of indigenous green leafy vegetables like Telfairia occidentalis (fluted pumpkin), Amaranthus viridis (amaranth), and Solanum macrocarpon (African eggplant) in enriching different local food products (bread, chinchin, biscuit, cake, moinmoin, ogi, etc.) which were acceptable to the consumers,” she says, adding that leafy vegetables are relatively inexpensive and rich in quality nutrients, containing phytochemicals, protein, and minerals.
“The biggest opportunity is that children love the vegetable enriched products and in this way, they get their daily requirements without stress and in a very cheap way,” she says, adding that children do not like eating vegetables but with the enriched products she helped developed, food security is achieved at affordable rates.
“Green leafy vegetables are not only rich in nutrients but also possess medicinal properties, so we optimized the best extraction methods for the antioxidants, developed drying regimes for the leaves, the optimal processing conditions for the various food products, determined in what form is best to add to the food items, conducted acceptability tests and organised some sensitization events with relevant stakeholders (bakers, farmers, food vendors, government regulatory agencies, Bread makers’ association and community associations in villages) to promote the adoption and uptake of the research finds,” she says.
Taiwo was born and went to primary school in Kano in northern Nigeria.
“I am one of a set of twins – a boy and a girl and I was born at a time when many parents deemed it unnecessary to educate their female children… I was only able to go to school because my mother had the strength of character to defy her husband and insist that her girls have equal opportunities and access to education,” she says adding that her mother always encouraged her to read the newspapers so that she could make useful contributions to family discussions.
“My first educational challenge was my personal competition – that is doing as well as my twin brother despite the low expectation of female children at the time,” she says, “My performance at the National Common Entrance examination was excellent and I got admitted into the much sought after Federal Government Girls’ College on merit.”
Taiwo would go on to boarding school in Benin City, Nigeria and then a biochemistry undergraduate degree at the University of Ife in Osun State, Nigeria, then a masters in Food Science Technology.
“My brother-in-law, Professor J Akinmususru (a lecturer) encouraged me to change my course to Food Science and Technology (which is in the Faculty of Technology) at the time because there were very few women in Technology,” she says, he believed that would afford me great opportunities in the future — he was right!”
Taiwo says that as a Food Process Engineer, she has contributed significantly in the post harvest processing of African food crops.
“I have provided specific engineering data necessary for equipment design and process optimization and handling”, she says.
Another female STEM worker from Africa focused on leafy greens is entrepreneur Dorcas Lukwesa.
Lukwesa grew up on her grandparent’s farm in Zambia, now she’s building a social enterprise there around movable smart gardens made of bamboo for farmers with limited space, limited soil and less water.