A mobile food testing laboratory, which will assist rural farmers to put their produce through food safety checks, is in the pipeline for the South African agricultural sector.
The mobile laboratory is the brainchild of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in collaboration with Mobile Agricultural Skills and Development Training (MASDT).
Plans are underway to optimise the MASDT mobile facility prototype over a period of three years.
MASDT is a non-profit company that assists small and medium enterprises in the agricultural sector to introduce an accessible and affordable mobile food safety testing for commercial and small rural farmers.
The facility is geared to bridge the gap in rural areas for farmers who 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 is 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 the rest of the supply chain,” said MASDT Acting CEO, Innocent Makuwaza.
In response to this challenge, a facility that can perform testing for pathogens, pesticide residue, mycotoxins and heavy metals is envisaged.
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.
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 for expansion 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,” said CSIR Food Safety Programme Manager, Dr Dharmarai Naicker. –