Researchers are busy inside the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) laboratory where locally starter culture for effective banana based Alcoholic beverages including production is developed.
Inside one of the rooms in the applied microbiology block of the laboratory, yeast isolates are grown in incubators.
In a bid to address the issue of banana based alcoholic beverages production, NIRDA has developed a locally Made-in-Rwanda starter culture - Umusemburo in this laboratory.
The starter culture was developed under funding of the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST).
"The starter culture was developed from traditionally made banana beer products to ensure quality and consistency of Banana Based Alcoholic Beverages,” explained Hubert Kageruka, the Director of NIRDA laboratory Unit.
The samples of nine starter cultures were selected from Urwagwa in the four districts namely Nyabihu, Muhanga, Ngororero and Kirehe, to come up with a high standard locally made starter culture.
“The laboratory supports the growing industries that are still at nascent stage so that their products go to the market with quality standards. This helps the industries to compete both at the local and international market,” he said.
NIRDA intends to engage members of the private sector to start mass production of the developed starter culture which will later be sold on the market.
NIRDA supports firms in the private sector in product development and quality testing in different areas.
According to Kageruka, the laboratory looks at developing new products, improving the quality of existing products in areas such as drugs and pharmaceuticals especially herbal based products, agro-processing products, among others. The laboratory also intends to incubate young innovators / companies ideas / prototypes to marketable products.
He said that NIRDA’s laboratory can work with the private sector with pharmaceutical products in both product development and product testing for improvement.
He said that they were also working on reviving pharmaceutical products that were developed by its predecessor Institut de Recherche Scientifique et Technologique (IRST).
“There are pharmaceutical products, developed by researchers in the now dissolved IRST that were once admired by Rwandans. We are planning to revive them through our laboratory, we will work with private investors to produce them and put them back on the market,” Kageruka said.
Some of the 10 phytoproducts, including the one dubbed “Rusendina” pomade for rheumatoid arthritis as well as Calendular, will soon be back on the market.
“We will start with skin care and massage products, and follow with other products such as cold medicines and products for internal diseases as the means and interest by the private sector arise,” he noted. other cosmetic products are being developed.
In agriculture-related products
NIRDA Life Science laboratory also has modern equipment used to test agro-processing products in development and testing. The laboratory also has a special section for sensory evaluation. This section is especially used to taste developed food products for their organoleptic quality. This section is also available to the private sector that wants to test consumer appreciation before their products reach the market.
As of recently, the research centre has also worked on new products such as biscuits from orange fleshed sweet potatoes rich in vitamin A with a private partner.
“The products are in the final phase and will be soon on the market because their quality was tested,” he said.
Also developed products include organic fertilizer from home based wastes collected from Huye district. The fertilizer is being produced by a Huye based youth company and there it was proven to be efficient and boost productivity.
Response to COVID-19
The National Industrial Research and Development Agency has secured a grant from the National Council for Science and Technology to conduct research to respond to the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
Dubbed: “Bioethanol and hand sanitizer production from sugar cane molasses to quickly respond to their local increasing demand towards Covid-19 pandemic,” the project has been successfully completed and handed over to the private company.
The grant was used to conduct research and produce two products namely bioethanol from sugar cane molasses and Aloe vera gel-based hand sanitizer.
“Both the developed products were handed over to the private sector that is set to take over for the mass production,” said Kageruka.
More is expected
According to Dr. Christian Sekomo Birame, NIRDA’s Director General, NIRDA Life Sciences came as a response to issues affecting the private sector engaged in areas of Agribusiness, drugs and pharmaceuticals to ensure they come up with quality products.
“We want to work with private sector actors to develop new products, test their existing products and conduct more research to ensure that local firms are competitive and productive,” he said.
He said that the industrial research agency will keep working hard to ensure more products are developed through the partnership with the private sector and higher learning institutions.
The laboratory uniqueness
He said that the NIRDA laboratory starts with an innovator at the nascent stage to increase quality of their products in line with standards required by Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) and Rwanda Food and Drugs Authority (FDA).
“Along the journey, we will be recommending firms on what to improve until the products reach the market with required standards. NIRDA is ready to work with any private company seeking product development and quality testing services from us” he said.
The laboratory has different equipment including microbiology equipment to help produce starter cultures, equipment that test ingredients and quality of agro-processing products, equipment that help to produce pharmaceutical products as well as sensory laboratory equipment.
The research centre is also a medicinal garden with herb species used in producing pharmaceutical products.
“We have worked on solid and liquid soaps as well as cosmetic products and mosquito repellents from medicinal plants,” he said.
NIRDA is a government institution that has been mandated with a mission to enable a generation of industrial innovators to become competitive through technology monitoring, acquisition, development and transfer & applied research.