Introducing SANBio Student Ambassador for Botswana: Koketso Motlhanka

Mr Koketso Mothlhanka, SANBio Student Ambassador for Botswana

I am honoured and pleased to have been selected by the Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) to be the Student Ambassador for Botswana.

My name is Koketso Motlhanka, a young man of 25 years old who was born in Francistown, Botswana. I had the opportunity to do my primary school education in Botswana and neighboring country Zimbabwe. Due to this exposure, I am able to communicate in English, Setswana and Ndebele. Upon completion of my primary school education, I returned to Botswana to complete my secondary and subsequently tertiary education. 

From a young age, I found myself wondering what caused food to spoil and I was told it was microorganisms. It was also stated that the same microorganisms can be of benefit to people, such as in the production of probiotics and prebiotics. This got me thinking: how can these small things spoil and also be of benefit of us. These questions were all beyond my knowledge and they initially sparked my interest in Food Science and Technology. From there I applied to Botswana College of Agriculture, nowadays known Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural resources, to study BSc in Food Science and Technology. 

During my four years at tertiary, I took courses such as Food Chemistry, Food Microorganisms, Food Analysis, Nutrition, Food Biotechnology, Food Engineering, Dairy Science and Technology and Food packaging. These courses built a sense of the entire picture of the subject, and explored many of the ideas I had only touched the surface of in high school. 

During my undergraduate studies, I was the Vice President of the Botswana College of Agriculture Food Science club where we were teaching our peers about healthy life styles. You are what you take in; what you eat makes your body. To build good relations, we would invite companies to our institution for career days. This gave the students a sense of the skills and qualities that the food industries beyond the lecture rooms were looking for in prospective employees; furthermore, creating linkages between academia and industry are key to innovation, also in food science. 

Upon completing my undergraduate degree, I was even more eager to learn – thus I volunteered as a Research Assistant under the Southern African Science Service for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) project which further drew my attention to a career in biosciences which could benefit our people as new food products are being discovered, and analysis of such products is necessary in order to educate the public about their nutritional and medicinal benefits. The project’s objective was to profile the nutritional and phytochemical composition of seed oils and to also formulate value added foods from the indigenous crops under study. 

I believe the knowledge I acquired and the training I obtained in undergraduate school prepared me to apply for the courses ahead: I am currently a Master’s student at Botswana International University of Science and Technology where I am studying towards an MSc Biology and Biotechnological sciences. To me biotechnology entails a wide range of biological processes that are based in microorganisms, animals, plant cells, cell components and constituents such as enzymes for the production of beneficial goods. 

The study of these processes can be very beneficial for the country as we will able to study our traditionally fermented products such as muchema, ting, maere, madila, and bojalwa jwa Setswana. Botswana has many such indigenous products which need to be studied. Most people in Botswana transfer food processing information through word of mouth and little is documented; as such there is need to optimise, profile and identify our indigenous products. Food Science and Technology has opened my eyes to see the value of our indigenous foods, of which 90% are undocumented. I aspire to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to understand and study our indigenous foods to ensure my country Botswana is food secure by improving food availability and food security. 

Food is life. Knowledge is power and should never be lost. Share knowledge.

Mr Koketso Mothlhanka
SANBio Student Ambassador for Botswana