South Africa leaps into bio-manufacturing

South Africa took a leap into bio-manufacturing with the opening of the Bio-Manufacturing Industry Development Centre (BIDC) at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on 13 May 2016. The aim of the centre is to support small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) in meeting their customers’ needs within short time-frames and to be able to exploit market opportunities.

The BIDC’s support for SMMEs is through the development of bio-based manufacturing processes and products. Companies that are incubated at the BIDC have access to ready-to-use bio-manufacturing facilities, support in research and development laboratories as well as access to experts in the fields of agro-processing and bio-processing product development and scale-up.

Funded through the Department of Science and Technology (DST)’s Industrial Innovation Partnership Programme and the Jobs Fund Programme, the BIDC is a hub for innovation in the bio-manufacturing sector. Speaking at the launch of the centre, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said the local manufacturing sector has been slow to adopt innovative manufacturing technologies leading to limited value addition to raw materials and a steady increase in the country’s trade deficit. The key strategic focus is to provide an environment for the re-industrialisation of South Africa through the diversification of the economy. Therefore, the BIDC contributes to the development of new, innovative products and new industrial value chains which revitalise the local industry, stimulate export markets and increase local competitiveness.

The BIDC supports SMMEs through the prototyping and scale-up phases of product development, assists them to do market acceptance testing and to launch products on the market. The companies remain the sole owners of their innovations and retain absolute control over their future in terms of value add and partnerships. The BIDC helps to lower the cost and barriers that inhibit innovative enterprises from turning their inventions into market-ready products.

The CSIR has developed insights into the potential of the bio-economy and bio-manufacturing sector. The initial phase will result in the creation of permanent and temporary jobs while the economic impact is projected at about R250-million a year within the next five years. The BIDC is supporting 19 enterprises of which 16 are owned by black entrepreneurs.

The CSIR is a government-funded organisation, and today derives about 80% of its income from public funds, either directly in the form of a grant or indirectly through other public sector organisations including parastatals and government departments.

Pandor said that unlike advanced industrial countries, we have not scaled down the relative importance of public research institutes in our national innovation system. South Africa has an extensive network of public research institutes, accounting for 19% of the total research and development performance. This is double the UK and only slightly lower than Russia, which has the most extensive network of all developed countries. In terms of the future, it is an expectation that the various science councils will play a role in the socio-economic development of South Africa, by using science to develop knowledge products and services that positively alter poverty, inequality and unemployment.

According to BIDC manager Dr. Dusty Gardiner, 33 products with applications in the cosmetics, nutrition and biotechnology industries have been developed and transferred to enterprises. The programme has resulted in 105 permanent jobs being created, and 165 temporary jobs. Over 50 interns have received training in the BIDC vocational learning programme in order to provide the bio-manufacturing sector with a skilled workforce.

One of the BIDC success stories is Elvema Nutrition. The company’s fortified instant porridge Moringa Oleifera contains grape seed extract which has several health benefits and qualifies the porridge to be listed as nutraceutical. After just over a year the company is selling in major supermarkets in South Africa and is exporting to Botswana, Nigeria, the DRC, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia and Angola. The company has 31 employees.

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