Impacting the livelihoods of poor communities through science

Dr Zodwa Mbambo, senior researcher at the Council for scientific and industrial research (CSIR)

Dr Zodwa Mbambo is a senior researcher at the Council for scientific and industrial research (CSIR). She holds a PhD in Microbiology and a diploma in Project management. Her field of research focuses on Nutritional Biofortification. Dr Mbambo’s passion for science combined with her dreams of a better world is the motivation behind the focus on research projects that benefits the communities. Her work aims to empower communities through contributing to improved food and nutritional security, creating income for smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs, and mitigation of -- and adaptation to -- climate, agronomic and economic risks.

“I’m currently working on the bio-accessibility of certain nutrients (vitamin A, iron, zinc, fat and protein) in the breakfast drink that was developed by a team here at the CSIR in order to address malnutrition in rural school going children. We are basically trying to find out how much of these nutrients are useful to the learners. And I’m also working on a number of other projects including nutraceuticals and bio-accessibility in Cleome,” elaborates Dr Mbambo.

“The work we do includes the promotion of underutilized indigenous crops, determining their nutritional value and ensuring that they are easily accessible through upgrading the value chains and product development,” she further explains. ““I enjoy my role as a researcher when the work I do has positive impact on our communities. When science offers real and tangible solutions to the countries’ problems it gives a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.”  

 “I would say anyone who wishes to pursue a career in science has to have a sense of wonder to reimagine the familiar. I would encourage young people to consider the field as it is fulfilling in many ways but also to take the time to do their research. Science is not necessarily a glamourous field; you have to have the passion and the love for it,” noted Dr Mbambo.

Dr Mbambo’s desire to become a scientist was not necessarily incited by anyone, but her excellence in biology scored her an opportunity to become a scientist; it “made sense” for her to go that route. She further explained that she chose something that afforded her some constancy and continuity.

When asked about her thoughts on women in science, Dr Mbambo’s response was: “This is an opportune time for women in science, especially if you are interested in pursuing your studies. There are many scholarship and bursary opportunities available but one has to understand that it’s the long haul and the rewards, while great, are few and far in between. I would encourage anyone who wants to study to explore all the available avenues and focus on their studies as it can be rewarding in the end. There are many inspirational young women who are doing amazing things in Science.

If she was an indigenous plant, she says that she would be Bidens pilosa a.k.a blackjack a.k.a uqadolo (isiZulu) because “it is such a powerful plant with so many health benefits but to those who don’t know it, it’s just weed”.