Vulnerable communities in SADC uplifted through science, innovation and technology

tea farming

Shamisa lives in a dry part of Zimbabwe. With few prospects for income, she relies on small scale farming to feed her family. 

Food insecurity impacts 239 million Africans, and up to 40% of children under the age of five are chronically undernourished, which affects their survival, and cognitive and physical development. 

This is according to the The Protocol on Science, Technology and Innovation, signed by SADC heads of state in 2008, which paves way for science, technology and innovation (STI) to improve the health and food access of vulnerable Africans like Shamisa. 

Empowering women to uplift their communities has a big impact on the health and nutrition of vulnerable groups, including children.

One plant that thrives in the dry area where Shamisa lives is the resurrection bush. Its leaves are used to make tea, the health benefits of which are becoming clearer through research.

Parceval Pharmaceuticals and Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe believe that Shamisa’s economic fortunes can be helped by raising consumer awareness, and thus market share, of this herbal tea. This is according to Avril Harvey of Parceval Pharmaceuticals, who related the story of Shamisa, as well as the nutritional and social benefits of the tea, at a recent SANBio event.

“We are creating a market for a processed, value-added indigenous product that will create opportunities for rural women to earn an income,” Harvey said. “We want to create an annual income for collectors to improve the quality of education, housing, food, healthcare, and access to basic necessities such as water and light for the collectors.”

In other words, women like Shamisa can harvest the resurrection bush tea to supplement their income and further boost sustenance farming done in the area. 

Another example of an STI solution for the vulnerable is in Botswana, where village communities are retaining ownership of marula oil extraction processes through the indigenous knowledge and labour of rural women. In this case, the value of indigenous knowledge is developed and promoted as per the objectives of the SADC STI protocol. 

Blue Pride, a company that works with communities who collect marula fruit to produce marula seed oil, understands that individuals within the community have indigenous knowledge about the best marula fruits to extract oil from. Blue Pride uses the oil in soap and skin products, but gives the pulp back to the community for food and drink.

Drought, another big threat to food security and affordability in SADC, is also being addressed through STI.
For instance, the Mozambican Institute for Agrarian Research (IIAM) recently harvested drought and pest resistant genetically modified maize in the Gaza province. The project is designed to help subsistence farmers and domestic producers, especially those without the financial resources to purchase pesticides or survive a devastating drought. 

Livestock farmers and other rural communities who live in close contact with wildlife and domestic animals are at risk of animal-borne diseases like Ebola, rabies, tick-bite fever, brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis. 

In Mnisi, which borders the Kruger National Park in South Africa, medical doctors, veterinarians and ecologists work together with the community to balance wildlife conservation, natural resources, farming, animal disease control, and human health. It is a unique environment where basic genetic research into zoonotic diseases coincides with applied science like animal vaccinations, creating skills and models for improving human-animal health elsewhere in Africa. 

These examples demonstrate that STI plays an important role in advancing the lives of women, children and other vulnerable peoples in the SADC region. It is encouraging to see researchers and entrepreneurs actively working to find opportunities to uplift the vulnerable in society, and SANBio continues to link and support key projects in this field.