THE National University of Lesotho (NUL) has commercialised its food and cosmetics testing services as the institution of higher learning steps up its support for local industries.
The initiative is spearheaded by Mahlomola Hlongoane and Theletsa Mpholle who recently completed their Chemical Technology degrees at the university.
Held at the institute’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Technology, the testing processes also include other products apart from food and cosmetics.
Mr Hlongoane (24) told the Lesotho Times in an interview this week that, over the years, the department had tested various products before they were launched for the market.
While in times past they were providing the services for free, he said the university decided to charge a fee to ensure speed and efficiency.
“Given the accumulated experience of years testing various products and the unsustainability of being a perpetual Good Samaritan, we decided to provide the services for a fee,” Mr Hlongoane said.
“It is challenging and time consuming for NUL staff to juggle lecturing and testing products for people who are not students at the university.”
Explaining how they embarked on the project, Mr Hlongaone said they acquired the know-how of the department’s operations during their time as students and decided to approach the university to run the facility commercially after finishing their studies.
In pitching their proposal, the duo stated that NUL staff already had their hands full with lecturing duties.
“Since the university had the testing equipment that we could not afford, we thought it would be a good idea to approach them and see how we could work together,” he said.
“We also needed to put our skills to use by catering to the need for testing services in the country.”
Chipping in, Mr Mpholle said the commercialisation of NUL’s testing services saved many producers transport costs since they no longer had to go to South Africa for the services.
He said the testing was meant to ensure the safety of the products for consumers based on internationally-recognised standards.
Some of the aspects they test on food products are nutritional contents that inform the decisions of consumers who are health conscious.
The nutritional information includes the amount of carbohydrates, fats, protein, dietary fibre, and total energy in foodstuffs.
In the case of cosmetics, they test for stability, pH (potential of hydrogen), chloride, chloroform and hydroquinone among others.
“Additionally, we also offer recommendations on how producers can optimise the nutritional composition of their products by changing quantities in their ingredients. This can enable us to be more competitive in the market,” Mr Hlongoane said.
Testing a product, he said, also increased its chances of being sold beyond Lesotho’s borders because of the guarantee that it is safe to consume.
“This process can open up opportunities for local products in international markets that would otherwise be limited to within Lesotho’s borders.”
Mr Hlongoane said one of the major challenges they encountered was the dearth of localised standards that suited Lesotho’s unique needs.
“We often base our operations on standards set by a variety of international bodies because we don’t as yet have local standards; at least that we are aware of.”
Mr Mpholle indicated that their long-term plan was to establish an independent testing facility that would be fully dedicated to the needs of the private sector.
“In order for that dream to be realised, we are going to need investors willing to partner with us, because all we have right now are the skills and experience,” he added.