Harnessing Southern Africa’s biodiversity for value addition to natural products

Mauritius training

According to a MarketWatch article, the cosmetic, beauty and skincare market is valued at USD 134.6 billion in 2016, and is expected to reach USD 218.6 billion by 2025. Traditionally, it is dominated by cosmetic and pharmaceutical giants who devote billions of dollars annually to the formation of new products, and mostly synthetic-chemical loaded new products. Thus, it has always been difficult for small companies to enter the picture.

However with the undeniable rise in the demand for organic cosmetic, beauty and skincare products, the playing field is increasingly levelled. While the beauty giants are researching and producing new chemical concoctions, Africa with its natural biodiversity, has an excellent opportunity to reach the market with their naturals products. But Africa lacks experts in the cosmeceutics sector and to fill this gap it is of paramount importance to train young researchers and entrepreneurs in this field.

As joint effort, the Doctoral School in collaboration with the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Agriculture of University of Mauritius partnered with University of Pretoria has conducted a short course on cosmetic formulation. Entitled 'Principles of Phytomedicine: Ethnomedicine, Science & Product Formulation' and the course was funded by the SANBio/BioFISA II Programme. Twenty five participants have benefitted from the training which was held at the University of Mauritius.

According to the Project Leader, Prof Namrita Lall of University of Pretoria, everything natural and environmentally friendly is trending. This includes food and clothes to cosmetics and make-up. In order to keep up with the current trends, this workshop was designed to expose the trainees on how to add value to the medicinal plants and natural products which may assist to take them from the lab to the shelf. 

“This training programme was a great way to disseminate knowledge on product formulation and business planning. Being a nutritional science student, I have always been learning on how phytochemicals can have health benefits when taken orally. However, the theory and practical sessions in the training programme helped to broaden my knowledge on the topical application of phytomedicine to treat skin disorders. Overall, the workshop was indeed an enlightening experience for me,” said Zainah Kodabux.

The 2-days workshop was an intense session which consisted of a pre-requisite theory and laboratory practical. This training programme covers the crucial principles of ethnomedicine and scientific validation, cosmetics formulation, intellectual property rights and patenting. 

While the practical sessions covered extraction of active ingredients from plants, anti tyrosinase assay and, exfoliating face wash, healing ointment and day time cream formulation. A particularly interesting topic was how to build a business in Mauritius which was presented by the founder and Director of Exo foodstuff Ltd, Nadine Bourbeau. The talk covered the Legislation and regulation aspect and 'how to use the Business Model Canvas as a tool to formulate a business'.

''This workshop was very different from all other workshops I attended, the topic not being related to my current research or previous studies. I do think, however, it provided good and easily understandable introduction of the topic to me. There was sufficient coverage, with the right balance between lecture and practical sessions" highlighted Aishah Tegally, PhD student in Molecular Biology.

At end of second day of the workshop, the participants were asked to give a short test and to submit an assignment, whereby the participants have to formulate a business plan based on business model canvas for a product that they would like to commercialise. The participant, who will score the highest mark, will be invited to undergo further training in the cosmeceutics field at the University of Pretoria.

"This workshop has been useful for our students towards capacity building as well as empowering them with new knowledge in the field of phytomedicine. Undoubtedly the trainees will be able to use the knowledge acquired to move forward in their research work and at the time impart such knowledge to undergraduate students be it during teaching or laboratory works. The workshop has been very useful as part of mutual cooperation between the University of Pretoria, SANBio and the Doctoral school," said Professor Anwar Hussein Subratty, the Director of Doctoral School of University of Mauritius.

Article written by Devina Lobine