Botswana demonstrates Southern Africa’s keen interest on indigenous foods

Dr Ereck Chakauya presents the SANBio Business Plan 2013 – 2018 to the Director of the Department of Research, Science and Technology Ms Lesego Motoma

The NEPAD - Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) secretariat, between 9 and 13 February, 2015, visited Botswana to share the SANBio Business Plan (2013 – 2018). The secretariat paid courtesy calls on various government ministries and departments. One message from all these visits is that Botswana is keen and ready to research and develop products from the country’s indigenous foods.

During a visit to the University of Botswana’s Department of Research and Development, the acting Director, Dr. Sekhwela noted that it was time that southern Africa, “learnt from the Chinese who have found ways of innovation and have improved the packaging of their traditional medicines and foods.”

The SANBio Network Manager, Dr Ereck Chakauya, was also a guest presenter at a seminar held by Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI) themed: Indigenous Knowledge, Plants, Health and Nutrition. During this seminar, Professor Runner Majinda from the University of Botswana spoke on the importance of going back to the basics and some of the research benefits he has found through years of research in Botswana’s indigenous plants such as the monepenepe. His presentation spoke to some of the nutritional and medicinal traits which have been discovered in various plants grown in Botswana including the drought tolerant Morama beans.

SANBio has been reinforcing the importance of harnessing resources available in the region to ensure that southern Africa realises the highest possible benefits from its rich indigenous and neglected foods. It is currently working on identifying key stakeholders working on value addition, improved packaging, and marketing of indigenous foods.

One of the key fears linked to the use of indigenous food, medicines and knowledge has been the fear of losing the intellectual property to collaborators leaving little benefits for the communities, who are normally the custodians of the Indigenous knowledge. In response to that fear, a candid and important remark shared by Mrs Monyatsi from the Company Intellectual Property Authority in Botswana was, “We need to ask ourselves: How do we protect our indigenous products without limiting the product accessibility thus ensuring that our products benefit our economies.”

Indigenous foods and medicines can play an important role in Africa’s Bio-economy. Botswana’s keen attitude towards improving the accessibility of indigenous foods is a refreshing step in the right direction which, if pursued to finalisation, can go a long way in not only improving the market value of local foods but contribute to economic growth and create employment. SANBio remains dedicated to partnering with various stakeholders in Southern Africa to ensure that Africa’s resources are volarised.

By Gwadamirai Majange