NATIONAL University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice-Chancellor, Nqosa Mahao, says the institute’s newly-developed artificial egg incubator will not only help develop the country’s poultry industry, but also foster healthy eating.
In his remarks during the launch of the Pius the XII artificial egg incubator at NUL’s Roma-based campus last Friday, Prof Mahao said the innovation would enable Basotho to consume eggs which had not been genetically-modified like most imports.
The 618-egg capacity egg incubator was constructed by electronic engineers, Seforo Mohlalisi and Thabo Koetje, from the university’s Department of Physics and Electronics.
The over three-year project, which was supervised by Prof Molibeli Taele, was conceived out of the need to come up with practical innovations that could stimulate economic growth.
Pius the XII’s designers installed temperature and humidity control functions as well as an egg-turning device. The egg incubator can also pump in water needed to create optimum conditions for hatching and also has an alarm system in the event of any problems.
The designers also said Pius the XII had a hatching rate of over 80 percent compared to conventional egg incubators which ranged from between 50 and 60 percent.
Following last Friday’s launch, the university’s next step is to embark on a market study of the egg incubator and thereafter work towards attracting investors to bankroll its commercial production.
Prof Mahao said the innovation would not only benefit the poultry sector but the health of Basotho.
“In this part of the world, we eat imported chickens injected with drugs meant to prolong their shelf life,” he said.
“And, if you observe the mortality rates, you discover that cancer is beginning to overtake HIV/AIDS as a result of lifestyles and what we eat.”
The NUL vice-chancellor said organically-produced poultry products were the way to go to avoid health complications.
“With this innovation, we are not just going to assist farmers to make a living from rearing chickens, but we are also going to intervene in the health sector.
“This is because more and more people want to consume locally-produced foods and not the poison coming all the way from Brazil.”
Prof Taele chipped in saying the artificial egg incubator would boost egg production in the poultry sector.
“Poultry production in Lesotho is a very lucrative business. However, inadequate hatchery machines limit its growth and makes the end products more expensive,” he said, adding that most local farmers had to import chicks from South Africa.
“We are all aware that the demand for chicken and poultry products is increasing every day, and local farmers are unable to meet the demand. “One of the major challenges is the underdevelopment of the country’s incubation industry.”
In cases where the chicks were being produced locally, Prof Taele said that imported incubators were normally used.
“The imported incubators present a challenge of repairing them when they break down due to a shortage of mechanical skills locally.
“The imported machines also have lower hatch rates and are also labour-intensive since most of their functions needed to be done manually.”
He said the project was inspired by a challenge Prof Mahao put to NUL research departments to come up with practical innovations for economic development.
“A few years ago, he (Prof Mahao) challenged all the research departments to put more thrust in practical and developmental activities with the potential of addressing societal needs,” added Prof Taele.
Prof Mahao responded with a plea to the university’s staff to better market projects they had developed through scientific research.
“I have oftentimes been saying that we are the most terrible marketers at NUL. We are doing a lot of good things, but we are marketing them so badly,” he said.
“Why do people only know about our yoghurt project when there are so many things happening here at the university?”
This was in reference to a yoghurt-manufacturing project the university launched in March this year.
A biscuit production project using sorghum has also been developed by the institute, with a potential for commercialisation.
Added to that, one of the university’s graduates developed an award-winning pothole-detection innovation in a computer programming competition that was held by Vodacom Lesotho last year.
For his part, Mr Mohlalisi said the journey to building Pius the XII was filled with challenges and setbacks, adding that they persevered nevertheless.
“We started building our first incubator using an old cupboard that we used as the casing,” he said.
“At one point, the incubator was burnt to ashes and we had to start all over again. Another challenge we faced was having to source a component of the incubator all the way from China!”
Meanwhile, NUL has also established an Energy Research Centre (ERC) meant to develop human resource capacity by offering sustainable energy short courses and through an MSc in Sustainable Energy planned to start in January 2018.
“Moreover, the ERC performs research that informs policies for sustainable development,” reads part of a press release the institution issued yesterday.
“The ERC is an all-inclusive centre for low-carbon research work (solar, wind, hydro, bio-energy), social engineering (energy policy, economics, finance & project management, climate change & environment, energy & gender), capacity building, consultancy and outreach programmes. It has multi-disciplinary scientists from diverse backgrounds working collaboratively towards achieving clean power generation, efficient use of energy and access to clean energy for all households.”