To farmers, weeds are an expensive nuisance. They fight for water and nutrients with crops and thus interfere with their healthy growth. To get rid of them, farmers have to spend extra money on herbicides and hiring workers, which in turn eats into their profits. But a university professor has made an invention to help address this nagging problem.
Moi University Vice-chancellor Prof Richard Mibey has made a breakthrough in his research by inventing a dying substance from the weed Mexican marigold (Tagetes Minutas) and it is now being used in the textile industry.
This discovery is not only good news to farmers but it is also expected to boost the textile sector that has been solely relying on expensive imported dyes for fabric production. From the weed, the professor has come up with a dye he has branded TAMI Dye.
For this invention, the vice-chancellor was awarded the Best Innovator during the first African Forum on Science and Technology on April 3, 2012. Presenting the award, then President Kibaki noted that Prof Mibey’s invention will go along way in transforming the textile industry. It was noted the concept had saved Rivatex East Africa Ltd, a facility that has now been revived by Moi University, the cost of importing dyes from South Africa and India.
The dye, the don says, is biological and environmentally friendly unlike other chemical-based dyes. “With Marigold, the future for textile industry is bright especially at the moment when international markets like European Union are restricting goods with chemical contents,” he tells Smart Harvest.
So what’s the genesis of this discovery? Mibey, a professor of Mycology, recalls around 2008, there was an urgent need for supply of dye at Rivatex for fabric production. Efforts to import if from South Africa did not yield much.
“Around the same time, I attended a conference in India and took the money to buy the dye from there. However, there was a terror scare in Mumbai and again, I returned home with the money and no dye,” he recalls.
He adds: “I realised you can have money but cannot buy what you want. That’s a good trigger for a scientist.”
During that period, the professor was also conducting a research on mushrooms when he also discovered the product could produce a dye with only two colours.
“I had converted my kitchen into a research laboratory, boiling mushrooms in search of colours. But I realised mushrooms is seasonal and could not be produced in abundance,” Mibey says.
He says one time while flying, he spotted a farm with flowery Mexican marigold plant and decided to research on it. That is how it all began. The invention was patented in 2010. Mibey says between seven and eleven colours are achieved from the TAMI Dye at various boiling points and is absorbed into fixed colours in fabrics and remains firm without fading even with repeated washing.
The don says the leaves of the plant are used to produce colours when it is mature at three months.
A single merigold plant, he says, can produce about 200 grams of matter that can be used to produce the dye.
A kilogramme of dye can be used for fabric measuring 100 metres. The new development, is expected to benefit farmers who have to spend good money in an effort to destroy the weed — common in most farms.
Rivatex MD Thomas Kipkurgat says TAMI Dye is saving the company about 15 per cent of total costs the firm spends on importing dyes every month. He says REAL spends between Sh2 million and Sh3 million on all chemicals and dyes every month.
What’s in for farmers?
Kipkurgat is encouraging farmers to produce cotton and Mexican marigold to tap into this invention. He says they have started buying marigold for the processing of the dye although it is still in small scale.
He says as the need increases, processing machines will be put up for mass production of the dye.
On long-term plans, Mibey says: “When demand for this dye rises, we shall have the weed collection centres in regions where Moi University has campuses including the main campus at Kesses, Kitale, Bomet, Yala and REAL so that farmers can supply it for processing.”
He says although REAL still imports dyes, the local invention will in the near future cut costs and see the country using its own product in adding value to locally manufactured fabrics hence boosting the local textile industry. The university’s School of Agriculture is planning to start educating farmers on how they stand to benefit from this invention.
Once the local market has been satisfied, it will be expanded to East Africa region then African continent and beyond.
Advantage of natural dyes
This invention will create renewed interest in natural dyes as opposed to chemical based ones. Indeed, natural dyes have myriad benefits. First, they are cheap and easily available. Raw material for making natural dyes can be found in most backyards.
According to Internet sources, natural dyes (organic) are dyes or colourants derived from plants, invertebrates or minerals. Most of the natural dyes are vegetable dyes from plant sources including roots, berries, bark, leaves, and wood—and other organic sources such as fungi and lichens.
The natural dyes produce an extraordinary diversity of rich and complex colours as well as unexpected results, making them exciting to use. They are economical since they are readily available, very concentrated in content and easy to repeat colours through mixing.
A small amount of plant extract dyes can be used on a large amount of fibre thus making it economical, as it uses little storage space and thus is easy to transport. Two or more dye extracts can be mixed to obtain different dye colours.
Working with fibres and natural dyes is fun. One can follow rules or can experiment and marvel at the results.
Either way, they end up with something that is more personal that they will treasure. Natural dyes have a beauty and depth of colour that cannot quite be obtained with chemical based-ones.
Chemical colours, tend to be harder and sharper and so need to be carefully colour-matched while the warm, soothing naturally dyed colours display harmony in any combination and become even more beautiful with age.
Revival of Rivatex
The firm that is going to tap into this invention — REAL — that is now fully operational after it was bought by Moi University eight years ago, is set to change fortunes of cotton farmers in the country after revival of its operations.
The factory located in Eldoret was established as Rift Valley Textiles Limited (Rivatex) in 1976 and was operational until 1990s when it collapsed.