WHY NUL IS DEVELOPING A BIG PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT AND ACCREDITED TESTING LAB

The National University of Lesotho (NUL) is in the process of developing the NUL Product Development and Accredited Testing Laboratory, says Professor Himanshu Narayan, a member of NUL Research and Innovations Committee (NULRIC). It will be a lab of labs, a big Lab. Its mandate is in its name, “product development” and “accredited product testing.” 

“The mandate of this lab is a model followed by all developed countries and it explains why they have developed in the first place,” Prof Narayan said. He also said that the planned Lab is an important and a major part of the unfolding "Innovation Ecosystem" of the NUL.

So we sat down with Professor Narayan and threw some questions at him concerning this interesting development.

Q1: So what is a product development and testing lab?

A1: The name says it all. It will be a big lab that will come up with new products, and will have facilities to test them. It will also test products from outside the university. However, the development and testing (although related) will be two separate components under completely different managements. 

Q2: But NUL already has labs.

A2: Yes, many labs. But they are research and teaching labs. They are not dedicated product development and testing labs.

Q3: Let’s start with the testing part, what is it?

A3: Lesotho is awakening to a manufacturing that will see it develop its own products after a century of relying on products shipped from elsewhere. So we will need an accredited laboratory to monitor and ensure good quality of the products. At the same time, we will need to test the products according to regional and international standards, so that they are acceptable into the local and international markets.

Q4: What are standards and why does one need to test according to standards?

A4: Consider this: we use preservatives to ensure juices last long. However, there is only so much preservatives you can use, beyond which limit, consumers’ health is no longer safe. That limit, is a standard number. We will need to test our juice to establish if it contains that preservative within the safe or allowed limits.

In the area of product development and manufacturing, basically standards are all about comparison and benchmarking with an aim to quantify the essential information so that the ordinary consumers easily understand it. Essential information, for example, indicating quality of the products, issues of health and safety, etc.

Q5: Who makes the standards?

A5: There are legal bodies nationally and internationally who are mandated to develop them. In Lesotho, we hear that the government is in the process of developing a standards institute (Lesotho Institute of Standards). But we can test according to international standards where local ones don't exist or are inadequate or if required to do so by international markets. 

Q6: Why should it be NUL doing the testing?

A6: We are already doing it. It’s just that we are not mandated to follow particular standards at academia. We have more laboratories than any other institution in this country—so we come with a lot of experience.

We also have the expertise, we know the trends, we have the capacity to predict the testing requirements. In fact more technologies are coming out of NUL than any other institution in Lesotho. No doubt we are the obvious choice.

Q7: Will it be a commercial lab?

A7: Yes, it has to be self-sustainable. And it is also important that it will be accredited lab.

Q8: Do you have a potential competition locally?

A8: Not that we know of. But whoever has similar plans is advised to join us rather than compete because we are already some miles ahead. We are not in this for competition. Our job is to fuel innovation and progress. That is why this is a Product Development and Testing Lab. The development part of it is what excites us most. 

As a country, we can’t just concentrate on making standards and testing if we don’t develop. Otherwise, what shall we be testing? What will the standards be for?

Q9: Ok. But what is a product development lab?

A9: The labs we are using now at the NUL were not specifically meant for product development although some of the most interesting products Lesotho has ever seen are coming out of these labs. Imagine if we had a lab where the moment you pass the door, it’s all about product development, product development, product development. That will catapult Lesotho’s economy in a matter of decades.

Most people are not aware that virtually all products we enjoy to buy and use today did not come about by chance, they were gradually developed in the labs following some meticulous thinking, planning and research. In short, a product development laboratory is a birthplace of products.

Q10: Where will you get money for the Lab?

A10: We don’t make money. We make plans and once money is available, we execute. That is our job.