Source: UZ scientists develop chemical detergents | The Herald July 13, 2019
Sifelani Tsiko Agriculture, Environment & Innovations Editor
University of Zimbabwe (UZ) scientists have developed a new chemical detergent for household and industrial use that could help the country reduce its import bill and save foreign currency.
Faculty of Science deputy dean Professor Simon Mukwembi told The Herald that the new detergent called “Dr Simati” was developed using local expertise from the UZ.
“We want home-grown solutions to the country’s pressing problems,” he said. “We are facing foreign currency shortages and if we develop our own products we can cut our import bill, create jobs and even earn forex from exports.”
The faculty has since established a company called Fasic, which is an arm of the university’s drive to commercialise research innovations which could ultimately be produced and marketed.
Fasic is making the detergents using a machine which was designed at the university called the Wonder Agitating Plant.
The plant produces 1 000 litres of detergents every 30 minutes. The detergents include dish washing liquids, toilet cleaners, fabric softeners, sanitisers.
The company initially started by providing detergents for the university community, but has since begun piloting the market outside the university.
“The company in its bid to support the development of SMEs, decided on toll manufacturing for companies instead of the traditional method of competing with them in the retail market,” said Professor Maud Muchuweti, dean of the UZ Faculty of Science.
“This is based on the fact that the detergent industry in Africa is dominated by multinationals with very few local players in the market. This is based on trade data which currently shows that in the SADC region there is a trade deficit of $667m for soaps and detergents.”
Fasic is steadily growing and there is scope to market detergents worth some US$60 million from its production line if the company gets investors and other technical partners.
“People are free to order any quantity they need. A few months ago, we got an order of about $150 000 for detergents,” said Prof Mukwembi.
“Our target is to make products worth about US$60 million from our production lines. There is scope to grow this plant and our main brand “Dr Simati.”
Fasic imports part of the raw materials while the other bulk is sourced locally. Plans are afoot to develop all the raw materials used in making the detergents locally.
Zimbabwe spends huge amounts of forex importing detergents and other household and industrial cleaning chemicals.
“We want to move from research in the laboratory to the production of goods and services to support the country’s import substitution thrust,” said Prof Mukwembi.
“We want to support Zimbabwe to reach a level where we can also export. This will help generate forex, create jobs and satisfy local and foreign markets.”
The major thrust of the UZ Faculty of Science, he said, was now to connect the university’s academic programmes, research and innovation processes to the needs of industry, commerce and society.
“Fasic (Pvt) Ltd is a vehicle that aims at solving these problems by generating wealth and jobs for the country through converting research work into commercialisable goods and services in line with the Government’s goals,” said Prof Mukwembi.
Government has over the years repeatedly challenged all the country’s universities to lead the country’s industrialisation process through creating new and supporting existing industries.
Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira says universities should fulfil their mandate of being the centres of excellence for all scientific and technological innovations.
“Main point is consciousness and design. We should design our systems so that they produce the goods and services we require. We cannot move forward using wrong or misplaced design. Our design or re-configuration of our higher education should outline what we desire as an output,” Prof Murwira once remarked early this year at a UZ strategic planning and consultative symposium.
“If an education system produces literacy only, but does not produce goods and services, it then needs to be revisited and improved. Programmes that do not lead to the production of goods and services shall be dropped.”
The UZ Faculty of Science has developed Yobao Yoghurt made from the local baobab fruit as well as producing dried fruits.
Other innovations which are still being developed include cancer drug research, fish feed production, chemical reagents and an electronic advertising system.
Zimbabwe is aiming to achieve its vision of becoming an upper middle-income by 2030 by also tapping into the Education 5.0 Government policy which requires all universities to launch into outcomes-focussed national development activities which can help make Zimbabwe’s economy competitive, modern and industrialised.
“Our vision for Zimbabwe is to become a developed upper middle-income economy by 2030. This is only possible if we develop an industry that produces quality goods and services, if we develop an education system that leads to an industry that produces quality goods and services.
“It is therefore, important to understand that science is the power that drives industry. Energy from science has to be captured using a particular design, just as fuel needs a strong tank for it to be useful, otherwise it just evaporates,” said Prof Murwira.
Zimbabwe has established a number of strategic research institutions and a number of quasi-government scientific bodies to demonstrate its commitment to promote research and development (R & D) to provide the country with technological solutions for sustainable development.
In addition, to this, it has also established a number of science-based universities to upscale science and technology in the country’s higher learning institutions.
These have provided the country with vast knowledge to inform decision making and address issues such as providing equitable access to water, food, health, housing, environment, technology, adapting to climate change to secure the country’s future.
Furthermore, Zimbabwe established the Ministry of Science and Technology Development and launched the Second Science, Technology and Innovation Policy in 2012, which sought to make new technology an integral part of individual and national development