Internationally benchmarked testing services to support local excellence
WIANA LOUW, general manager: Southern African Grain Laboratory
The Southern African Grain Laboratory (SAGL) was founded in 1997 by the grain and oilseeds industries as the reference laboratory with the purpose of measuring the desired characteristics of maize, wheat, soybeans and other crops for customers in Southern Africa through reliable and professional analytical services to promote agriculture.
To ascertain the value of agricultural products, there is a need to identify the exceptional processing and performance characteristics. Grain grading and other quality analyses are necessary tools for informed decisions to support the evolving grain marketing process. Accurate and reliable grain quality data ensure the best possible return from grain. The SAGL’s key customers include stakeholders across the grain value chain ranging from grain producers, plant breeders, marketers and traders to millers, processors and consumers.
As a primary food and feed source for people and animals, the grain industry operates more globally than any other industrial sector. Global and regional trade requires accurate, internationally benchmarked and accepted measurements.
ISO/IEC 17025 is an international standard covering the general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories. ISO is the International Organisation for Standardisation and IEC is the International Electrotechnical Commission and together they formed the specialised system for worldwide standardisation. The South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) as a public entity is recognised as the only national body responsible for carrying out accreditations in respect of conformity assessment, which includes accreditation of laboratories, certification and inspection bodies.
Since 1999 the SAGL is accredited under this quality system offering an extensive range of analytical testing services on grain, oilseeds and related food and feed products. The scope of testing covered under the laboratory’s accreditation is continually expanded to include new services aligned with the needs of local and international customers and also the addition of technical signatories to strengthen the technical capability of the laboratory.
The independent and accredited status of the laboratory guarantees the ability to complete grain testing quickly and with the highest degree of accuracy. An integral part of accreditation under an international standard such as ISO 17025 involves the participation in international proficiency schemes as an ongoing proof of technical competency. The SAGL participates in a range of international and local proficiency schemes such as the American Association of Cereal Chemist International (AACCI); Bipea (France); Food Analysis Performance Assessment Scheme, United Kingdom (FAPAS); and the Agri-Laboratory Association of Southern Africa (AgriLASA).
This competent team specialises in grain grading and physical testing, chemical analyses, rheological testing, nutrient analyses including essential micronutrients (vitamins), micro and macro minerals, amino acids and contaminants such as mycotoxins.
The relevant products covered include crops such as wheat, maize, grain sorghum and oilseeds such as soybeans, sunflower seeds and cereal products and products thereof such as meal, bran, grits and other.
Support to the grain and oilseeds industry in a reference laboratory capacity includes the offering of a range of ring tests to participants from South Africa as well as from the rest of Africa. Ring tests serve as a useful tool for equipment verification, method optimisation, confirmation of accuracy and benchmarking against other laboratories. In addition to the ring tests offered, the SAGL’s laboratories also fulfil the role of expert laboratory for the East African Proficiency Scheme.
Residential training is offered to participants from South Africa and the rest of Africa including assistance to regional laboratories to elevate their level of reliable testing and grading of grains and cereals. The training covers theoretical and practical hands-on laboratory training for quality analysis on grain, specific analyses such as the determination of vitamins and minerals in fortification premixes and final fortified products, mycotoxin testing and the implementation of ISO 17025 requirements in a testing laboratory.
Useful quality data are generated on an annual basis on different commodities, including maize, wheat, soybeans, sunflower seeds and grain sorghum. The results are then published in crop quality reports per commodity per season. Representative sampling of each season’s production is based on a sample collection plan designed by the industry in collaboration with the SAGL. The grain and oilseed samples submitted to the SAGL laboratory for testing are collected by the grain storing and handling industry according to this approved sampling plan.
The purpose of annual crop quality surveys is to provide the grain and oilseeds value chains with reliable data generated over several production seasons and regions under controlled and internationally benchmarked laboratory conditions. The data generated as part of these surveys can statistically be evaluated to identify unique South African trends and assist with the focus of future research studies.
Collaborative research studies with tertiary institutes in South Africa and Europe are designed to find solutions and address specific needs in the different sectors of the industry. The SAGL is able to provide the analytical support for such studies while collaboration also provides access to specific technical expertise as part of the project teams.
Reliable mycotoxin monitoring and surveillance data is needed to develop strategies for the reduction of different mycotoxins relevant to specific agricultural commodities produced locally and traded internationally. Global stringent requirements laid down by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), CODEX and other International Feed and Food Regulating bodies are increasingly being enforced and South Africa have to adhere to these international requirements to maintain our status as producers of high quality grain and oilseed products.