Celebrating indigenous crops in Africa for our health and wellbeing

Mahangu

Despite some of the challenges that exist within the development initiatives towards female entrepreneurship, African women are beating the odds and defying the obstacles in the bio-business field.

This was evident at the first training workshop in Namibia of the second season of the FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme run by NEPAD SANBio with support from the BioFISA II programme and in partnership with the National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST).

The first phase business training, with 22 participants who were selected from a pool of 44 applications, was conducted by the Namibian Business Innovation Institute (NBII) and held in Windhoek 21-23 May 2018.

Some of the problems showcased by the entrepreneurs included products from local plant and indigenous crops.

Four entrepreneurs at the event were promoting mahangu (pearl millet) and sorghum products in the country to improve the health and well-being of the Namibian population.

FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme participant Mary Shikukutu is determined that her company N T Okawa Trading cc is the answer. Her company is taking innovation to the next level and has developed a meal replacement drink made from mahungu which she believes will add value to the indigenous crop.

Mahangu, grows much better than maize in dry areas and can be a substitute crop in drought prone countries in the SADC region. Currently, it is one of the neglected grains that are scarcely grown in the region yet the crop is a reach source of protein and micro-nutrients that are very beneficial for the human body. It is also known to be one of the most important cereal and a staple crop in Namibia and is widely grown in seven regions of Namibia namely: Caprivi, Kavango, Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Oshana, Omusati and Kunene covering about 355 200 ha of land.

Traditionally, Mahangu has been viewed as a crop utilised mainly as household food, in addition to supporting needy neighbours or friends. However, of late, value added products from pasta to drinks are being made using this ingredient.

Returning season one FemBioBiz participant, Sofia Negonga realised a gap in the market to supply mahangu and sorghum products for households in Windhoek region.

Inspired by her mother’s business which used to supply mahangu to friends and family based in Windhoek, Negonga’s milling company processes both mahangu and sorghum for the locals who enjoy the indigenous staple food.

“People bring their unprocessed products to us and we provide the milling service and for those who simply just want the flour we also provide that as well. All our products and services are delivered to the right people at the right time.”

Food scientists like Lahja Amakali have brought new meaning to the traditional sorghum we have grown to love. She has developed an array of products made from sorghum including a healthier alternative coffee. Inspired by a need to promote a healthy lifestyle diet among diabetic patients within the Namibia region.

These are some of the few innovative female bio-entrepreneurs that the Season 2 of the FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme in Namibia aims to shine a light on and continue to create awareness on the potential careers in the biosciences sector.

More importantly, Namibia is looking to add value to its indigenous plants and crops for food security and the health of its people. Join NCRST in Namibia in rolling out FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme – Phase 2.