The Department of Agriculture at the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) recently hosted a site visit with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (KZN EDTEA) to assess the progress of the UNIZULU Technology Transfer Fund Project.
The project is led by Professor Godfrey Elijah Zharare, a lecturer and a plant scientist at UNIZULU. The other project members are Thulani Nxumalo, an agronomist and agricultural advisor stationed in Jozini, and George Wilsenach, a lecturer and agribusiness specialist in the Department of Agriculture at UNIZULU. Their research focuses on the commercialisation of vegetable oils from the fruit of two similar plants, Strychnos madagascariensis (uMkwakwa) and Strychnos pungens. The project received seed funding from EDTEA.
Prof Bryon Brown, the director of UNIZULU’s Research and Innovation Office was in attendance, together with Prof Innocent Moyo, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering, and Bonisiwe Ndlovu, the officer for IP, Innovation and Funding. Highlighting the background of the project, Prof Zharare mentioned the possible methods of oil extraction from the seed coat that surrounds the seeds, and the problems that need to be solved to facilitate the commercialisation of oil extraction from the two plants.
One method of extraction involves drying the seeds so that the skin can be separated from the seeds, and oil is then extracted from the seeds using a screw press or by solvent methods. Alternatively, the skin is scraped off from wet seeds into a puree which is then dried off, and oil is extracted from the dried puree by solvent or by pressing. Since the oil has not been extracted before, Prof Zharare and his team are investigating the best extraction protocols for the oils, and potential uses of them. Mangosuthu University of Technology’s TIA technology station is collaborating with the team on assessing the uses of the oils.
The team is also working on establishing vegetative propagation of the plants to facilitate establishment of plantations of plants with the desirable traits for oil production. Prof Zharare explained that that the project is to benefit the local community in uMkhanyakude District Municipality, where there is an abundance of Strychnos madagascariensis.
“The intention is to eventually set up an oil extraction plant in uMkhanyakude district, and to market the oil or products from the oil on a benefit-sharing basis whereby locals will function as harvesters of the fruits or as growers of the plants.”
The meeting ended with a visit to the lab where experiments are conducted to optimise the protocols for pre-extraction and the extraction processes.
– Precious Shamase
Picture: Samkele Sokhela