Located in Kanye, about 100kms from the Botswana capital, Gaborone, the National Food Technology Research Centre (NFTRC) is making exceptional progress in ensuring that Botswana’s food industry has quality products. What stands out as you enter the building is how NFTRC has embraced green technology. NFTRC is a research and development institution founded in 1987 under the Botswana Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
The Southern African Network for Bioscience (SANBio) visited the NFTRC offices on 12 March, 2015 to identify synergies and areas of potential partnership. SANBio also used the opportunity to present the SANBio Business Plan 2013 – 2018. Speaking during the official meeting, Dr Martin Kebakile, NFTRC’s acting director said, “We hope SANBio’s visit will open opportunities for partnership. Let’s look at how we can harness the resources we have and work effectively.”
NFTRC’s work with indigenous foods
NFTRC is currently working on a state of the art laboratory and grinding mill which will focus on improving food quality, particularly Botswana’s indigenous foods. Over the years, the organisation has been researching ways of packaging indigenous foods so that they are easily accessible to the people of Botswana. An example is how they diversified the use of sweet potatoes and produced other products with it including jam, flour, and salads. They have also packaged indigenous foods including beans and wild water melons.
The NFTRC team has also identified the drought resistant nature of the sorghum plant and are currently working on a grinding mill plant which will grind sorghum. They are also trying to find ways of fermenting and packaging sorghum porridge flour so that the end user only has to cook the porridge. DR Minah Mosele a Senior Researcher at NFTRC said, “Once the plant is done, we should be able to process and package the sorghum flour and ensure its ready for the market. If we don’t believe in the value of our own foods, it will be difficult to get other people to trust then too. Getting the food on to the market is not easy, but through partnerships with stakeholders like SANBio, we should be able to realise this dream.”
NFTRC on SANBio
During the visit, SANBio also got the opportunity to get some reflections from Dr Kebakile who is also a SANBio Steering Committee member.
Dr Kebakile, acknowledged that Botswana could have and should participate more in the SANBio initiative:
“I joined the steering committee in 2011 and realised how much Botswana was missing out. During meetings I learnt of how science was changing lives and helping to alleviate poverty. I took Botswana’s absence as a challenge and began to get my countrymen involved. Between 2011 and now, Botswana has participated in short courses offered by SANBio and NFTRC also had two of its employees benefitting from the fellowship program. Both beneficiaries, Dr Sarah Matenge and Gaone Makhawa came back and contributed immensely to the organization.”
Dr Kebakile hopes that under the new business plan, Botswana will also host a node (centre of excellence) for the Southern African region, “Now that the second round is here, we are prepared for the challenge. We would like to see the people of Botswana benefitting and contributing to biosciences in the region.”
Work in progress... the NAFTRC grinding mill plant under reconstruction.
By Gwadamirai Majange