SA to test food through mobile laboratories

Mobile laboratories for farming communities in remote South Africa is currently being developed. Image credit: Nature.com

15 September 2020 – The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is collaborating with Mobile Agricultural Skills and Development Training (MASDT), a non-profit company that assists small and medium enterprises in the agricultural sector, to introduce an accessible and affordable mobile food safety testing facility for commercial and small rural farmers in the South African rural agro-sector.

“Many farmers (commercial and small-scale) in South Africa’s rural areas battle with access to food safety testing facilities for their farm produce. This is mainly because they are located far from laboratories and the transport of samples to these laboratories are challenging. The process of handling and transporting samples also compromises the quality of the samples. This challenge results in the farmers losing out on lucrative export opportunities because they cannot provide the required food safety proofs required by rest of the supply chain,” says Inocent Makuwaza, Acting CEO of MASDT.

In response to this challenge, a facility that can perform testing for pathogens, pesticide residue, mycotoxins and heavy metals is envisaged. Furthermore, the facility would offer a customised laboratory information management system with digitised and customised mobile testing equipment that produces results in real time on site. This collaborative initiative has the potential to be expanded across the country and the region, should the partnership be able to secure the necessary investment from public and private funders.

“Increased investment funding in this area would provide small, medium and micro enterprises in South Africa with an opportunity to valorise their agricultural products, offering products for sale to retailers and larger processing facilities at a premium with the quality assurance of having met food safety standards. Beyond the current proposal, mobile food safety testing laboratories situated at every municipality will help to curb the risk of foodborne illnesses that the country has experienced along some food safety value chains,” says Dr Dharmarai Naicker, CSIR Food Safety Programme Manager.

The feasibility study of the mobile laboratory concept was co-funded by the Department of Science and Innovation and plans are underway to optimise the MASDT mobile facility prototype over a period of three years. This facility, which was initially funded through the Small Enterprise Development Agency, aims to ensure that accreditation for testing is received, that the project gains financial sustainability and targets the agricultural sector in clearly defined areas.

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