CSIR research boost indigenous biodiversity in South Africa

CSIR researchers are also African Ginger and Cancer Bush plant species (in picture), amongst others, to derive modernised products for traditional uses, such as body aches, eye infections, and uterine and urinary tract infections. Image credit: Wikimedia. commons

29 June 2021 – The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), is championing indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) research and development to provide sustainable food products, herbal based medicines and cosmetic alternatives in South Africa.

During a media briefing held on Monday, 28 June 2021, young CSIR researchers shared their research and products developed using indigenous plants and extracts. The briefing was organised as part of Youth Month celebrations to showcase the significant role played by young scientists in contributing to South African IKS research.

Some of the products showcased include high-value cosmetics, traditional medicines and foods based using South African indigenous plants. Some of these have been produced at commercial scale through issued licences with various industry partners and are suitable for consumer use. CSIR researchers are also using African Ginger and Cancer Bush plant species, amongst others, to derive modernised products for traditional uses, such as body aches, eye infections, and uterine and urinary tract infections.

Recently, the CSIR assisted six traditional health practitioners in developing safe and standardised IKS based products for commercialisation in a project funded by the DSI. The objective was to produce safe, quality, and efficient herbal products using science and technology without altering what they have and making sure that the products are safe and could be commercialised.

Addressing the media, CSIR process technologist Lucia Sethunya said that the CSIR was playing a vital role in adding value to South Africa’s underutilised biodiversity. “The plants that are indigenous to South Africa have the potential to contribute to local economic development, promote a shift to a healthier lifetsyle and empower smallholder growers to benefit in the growing IKS sector.”

Trishen Reddy is also one of the young researchers who are spearheading IKS research, producing food solutions using indigenous plants. Reddy spoke about the use of African ginger.

““The overall goal of the project is to produce affordable and nutritious products from African ginger. Based on the new generation and lifestyle, it has become a new trend to stay healthy and use only those products which are beneficial to human health and contains functional nutrients, hence the greater need for natural and organic products. The technologies to produce these products include pre-processing, drying technologies such as cabinet drying, and milling technologies utilising different types of grinders,” said Reddy.

The CSIR also tapped into the skin and haircare market using indigenous plant botanicals to boost South Africa’s economic and social contributions to support jobs and economic growth.

According to Vivey Phasha, CSIR technologist and cosmetic product developer, it was important for the CSIR to align its research agenda to the needs of consumers by developing products that maintain healthy skin and hair. To this end, she highlighted two cosmetic products that were already in the market.

“The tissue oil and petroleum jelly that we developed were made using South African botanicals. The petroleum jelly was formulated using a plant known as Cat’s tail, for its skin remedial benefit. The tissue oil, on the other hand, is known to be a hair growth promoter and an antioxidant, but it also miniaturises, softens and smoothes.”

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