Opportunities for Food Technologists in Kenya
SHADRACK OIYE & ANNE WANGALACHI
It has been suggested in the past that the term 'Food Technologists' be used to describe those with Bachelor Science (BSc) degrees and the term 'Food Scientists' be reserved primarily for those with Master of Science (MSc) or Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) as well as research competence 1. This report will reflect on the changing employment opportunities for food technologists in Kenya. Kenya is an agricultural economy and thus many of its industries are agro-based. Agro-food processing has been found and consequently is perceived as a driving force for any growing and dynamic agricultural economy. This has justified the training of food technologists in the middle level colleges and the universities. The annual total output of graduates from the universities by 1998 was approximately 75-90 2.This figure is currently higher by ten times as opposed to the industry requirement, which is shrinking. That is, there are many food technologists for limited job opportunities (traditional food technology jobs). This is because the Kenyan economy is not improving at a significant rate and incentives for investments though increasing, are still deficient. Reports of closures and relocation of manufacturing firms to other countries as well as staff retrenchments are common; food and related industries have not been left out either. Kenya has recently become more of a trading rather than a manufacturing country, as many international companies prefer to relocate their manufacturing bases to other countries leaving Kenya purely a marketing base. With trade agreements such as COMESA, this initiative is proving to be justifiable and very feasible.
The traditional roles of food technologists in food based industries in Kenya such as quality assurance, product and process development and improvement, online supervision and so on, are therefore at stake. This should not discourage, but prompt, food technologists to exercise their full potential by exploring other opportunities. After completion of his undergraduate studies, one of the authors, who is now completing his Masters program in Applied Nutrition, worked in an engineering establishment as a technical representative and later in a hygiene and sanitation company as a marketing executive. Below are several areas that are emerging to offer additional career opportunities for the food technologists in Kenya.
Sales and Marketing
Suppliers of food industries are increasingly interested in employing marketing and sales executives who have and can communicate relevant technical details. These industries include the food ingredient, food equipment, food laboratory and hygiene and sanitation products suppliers. This phenomenon is becoming more common due to increasing competition and in response to mounting customer demand for technical details. A similar situation is observed in the pharmaceutical industry where medical and veterinary doctors, pharmacists and biochemists have been deployed to market pharmaceutical products. Companies producing foods have also been reported to include food technologists in their sales and marketing teams. Currently, we also have a few food technologists working in sales and marketing positions in pharmaceutical companies, motor industry, engineering, hotel and other non-food set-ups. The rapid proliferation of food technologists in the area of sales and marketing may have apparently been promoted by the higher pay packages offered. Some educators in food technology may have long foreseen the development of this scenario, and some universities include marketing in food technology training.
Technical Service Provision
Engineering and packaging design for the food industry are becoming crucial. In this light, several engineering and packaging industries have employed food technologists in their technical teams and with encouraging results, others are expected to follow suit. In engineering, for instance, the fabricated food processing equipment needs to be hygienic and the design should provide for this. Further, food processing has specific parameter specifications, which should be considered at equipment design stage. The choice of packaging material and the design vis-a-vis the food to be packaged and its properties is in the domain of food technology. This has justified the hiring of the services of food technologists in such establishments.
Nutrition and food security programs require both a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach. One of the indispensable disciplines is food technology. Post-harvest processing and enterprise development (income generation) are key areas requiring the services of a food technologist. To ensure food and nutrition security throughout all seasons, excess produce needs to be preserved. Value added food products also form a source of income for agro-based community enterprises. Acquisition and use of post-harvest processing knowledge by farmers can improve their food, income and nutrition security3. The non-governmental organizations (NGOs), public and private institutions executing nutrition and food security programs, depending on their nature, have increasingly needed the services of food technologists. Many, including the food technologist themselves, did not envisage that food technologists were needed and could work directly with the communities in general, including smallholder farmers. With the rapidly changing feeding habits where processed convenient foods are in high demand, food technologists have become relevant in training on value-adding activities. Many NGOs do support such initiatives in the effort of poverty alleviation through job creation and income generation. Food relief organizations also require food technologists to ensure that the food intended for distribution to the vulnerable (during emergencies) is safe for consumption.
Small and Micro- Scale Enterprises
With sufficient capital, a sizeable number of food technologists in Kenya have ventured into micro, small-scale and medium food-based enterprises with success stories reported in fruit juice production, horticultural export, dairy production, and bakeries among other enterprises. The failure of some of these enterprises to remain operational has not only been due to cash flow but mainly marketing and management problems. It is for this reason that some universities include the food industry management and/or enterprise development components in their curricula, thus enabling their graduates to competently advise on these matters.
Other areas are also viable. Agricultural and related research institutions also employ food technologists as research assistants or even as researchers. Food-based and related consultancy firms also offer limited opportunities for food technologists. Other non-food establishments are also increasingly recruiting food technologists as management trainees to earmark them for management positions. The minimum admission requirements for a degree-based food technology course in Kenya is comparable to those for admission to other courses perceived to be most competitive such as pharmacy and medicine. Further, general science and basics in other subjects such as economics taught in food technology programs have made the technologists uniquely marketable in diverse areas.
In conclusion, the Kenyan industrial scene is rapidly changing and this has a direct impact on career opportunities: thus acting as a stimulus for modifying or expanding the roles of food technologists.
It is against this backdrop that teaching institutions should review their existing curricula. The world is fast becoming a global village. Ideally, a food technologist trained in Kenya should be able to work anywhere in the world. In revising the curricula, consultations should be held with specialists from other regions of the continent and even the globe. Emphasis should be laid on development of additional skills such as: problem analysis and solving; interpersonal skills; communication skills; teamwork; self-learning capacity; creativity and enthusiasm.
The graduates should also become aware of their increasingly changing roles in the society. While maintaining their traditional roles, they should assume the fresh ones, being brought forth by the changing job market. The government should also initiate programs to support university graduates who choose to venture into private entrepreneurship by providing financial assistance and special training, for instance. KUFoST [Kenya Union of Food Science and Technology] intends to influence policy makers in this respect and champion other initiatives that would enhance the survival of food technologists in the unpredictable career environment in Kenya.
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