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Biodiversity for sustainable solutions

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CSIR senior engineer, Kersch Naidoo and CSIR BIDC manager, Lara Kotze-Jacobs handover products to Patricia Mathivha, VIDA Pharmaceuticals managing director. Image credit: CSIR

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa, has assisted women-led Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) in developing nutritious food products for underprivileged communities

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation, has been collaborating with small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) in the chemicals, agro-processing and biotechnology industry to translate research into market-ready products.

Over the years, the CSIR has – through its Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre (BIDC) – transferred 104 products to 35 SMMEs. The BIDC is funded by National Treasury’s Jobs Fund Programme and the DSI’s Industry Innovation Support Fund.

One of these SMMEs is VIDA Pharmaceuticals, with female entrepreneur and owner Patricia Mathivha at the helm. The SMME uses biodiversity to create medical and nutritional products that bring sustainable and transformative solutions to communities.

“I was inspired to start VIDA because of the existing challenges of inaccessible life-saving and life-enhancing healthy food technologies in under-resourced communities in the country and continent. As part of my journey to expanding and improving VIDA products, I worked with the CSIR to develop two product lines from Baobab fruit pulp, a maize porridge and snack bar,” says Mathivha.

VIDA Pharmaceuticals is one of 35 SMMEs that have benefitted from the BIDC programme. The company works with communities in the Limpopo province, specifically in the Vhembe district, where the women of the community collect baobab fruits from the wild and turn it into a pulp. After the pulp is processed to a powder, it can be used as a food and nutraceutical ingredient.

BIDC programme manager Lara Kotze-Jacobs, who has been leading the programme since its inception in 2013 says the success of projects like VIDA Pharmaceuticals lies in the co-development of these innovative products and processes.

“The biggest gaps we have seen when it comes to SMMEs in South Africa are the lack of access to scale-up facilities and expertise in scaling up biotech processes, validation of products, and ensuring the quality of the products. In response to these challenges, the BIDC, has proven its capability to assist SMMEs in not only translating concepts into quality products, but also providing a platform that allows SMMEs to network with some of our partners, and access financial resources. This fits perfectly with the CSIR’s strategy, which aims to use science, technology and innovation to strengthen industrial development in order to create job opportunities,” says Kotze-Jacobs.

The CSIR’s agro-processing technical team, led by Dr Nomusa Dlamini, met with VIDA Pharmaceuticals to brainstorm ideas to design a product and formulate a specification brief that outlined the kind of work that needed to be done, the type of ingredients to be used, as well as packaging and labelling requirements, as regulated by the Department of Health. As part of this process, CSIR engineers also looked at the techno-economic feasibility of producing products at a price that is consistent with the market’s expectation while still resulting in a good return for the company.

“The interactive sessions we had with VIDA provided valuable information regarding the direction the work should take, especially on the taste, look and feel of the products, as these aspects determine consumer acceptance or rejection of the product. During the formulation process, we had to make sure we had incorporated sufficient ingredients to provide enough nutrients to enable nutritional claims on the products. The safety and shelf stability of the products were also extremely important,” says Dlamini.

After the final formulation process was completed by the CSIR technical team, the product was analysed by an accredited laboratory for nutritional content, microbial safety and shelf stability. Additionally, the manufacturing process was handled by accredited facilities that produced market samples for market testing. Based on the nutritional content analysis and feedback received from the market, VIDA’s instant maize porridge is not only tasty but also nutritious, with no added sugar or preservatives. The company’s snack bar is naturally- sweetened by the addition of honey and is high in vitamin c, magnesium, iron, zinc, and dietary fibre.

VIDA’s range of products is specifically tailored in such a way that they are accessible, affordable and have all the nutritional requirements needed to maintain a healthy diet without spending copious amounts of money.

“The CSIR team is proud of its work.  We are not only strengthening South Africa’s biomanufacturing industry but also enabling small businesses to productise their unique and novel concepts through science and innovation, combined with access to world-class facilities,” says Kotze-Jacobs.

VIDA Pharmaceuticals is currently manufacturing its production equipment, which is set to be commissioned at the end of August. Plans are underway to distribute their Baobab-based instant maize porridge and snack bar at local retail stores and wholesalers.

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