Mushrooms for all, and all for mushrooms – Profiling Ms Busisiwe Nsibande

Ms Busie Nsibande Agricultural Officer at Swaziland Mushroom Unit

Meet Ms Busisiwe Nsibande, Agricultural Officer at Swaziland Mushroom Development Unit. Ms Nsibande holds an MSc degree in Biology, specialising in Plant Breeding and Biotechnology, attained from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and a BSc in Agriculture (horticulture) from the University of Swaziland. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Plant Biotechnology at the Swedish University of Agriculture. 

For her PhD, she is doing research on the indigenous and medicinal Hypoxis plant species where she is looking at in vitro regeneration as well as molecular and phytochemical analyses. “At work, however, my main field of research is mushroom spawn and planting substrates, where we determine which mushroom species or strains are most productive when grown on a specific substrate mix and how they perform in the different agro-ecological regions of the country,” she states. 

Ms Nsibande and her team at the Mushroom Development Unit are currently conducting trials on new mushroom species they received from Thailand. They wish to find out if these species or strains are suitable for the conditions in Swaziland using the locally available agricultural waste material.

“Our research as the Mushroom Development Unit benefits the community in the sense that people are able to earn a living through mushroom farming, more especially women and the youth who are often marginalized. Mushroom growers are able to realize high turn-overs based on implementing the recommendations we make.  Besides conducting research we also train the farmers on all technical aspects of mushroom farming and monitor their performance,” she elaborates.

Sharing her thoughts on women in science, she says: “I believe that for a long time in the education sector women have been ignored and not given equal opportunities as men, especially in Southern Africa.  They have also been made to feel inadequate and not good enough to tackle science related subjects.  I am happy to say that we are witnessing a change in that: we are now seeing more and more women in the medicine, engineering, and other science related fields and they are doing exceptionally well.”

“I want to assure aspiring young female scientists that science is not specifically designed for the male gender; all it takes to become one is determination, dedication, and hard work of course. You need not be a genius to make it, all you need is to focus on what you want to achieve and go for it!“ She continues: “I never in a million years dreamt that I would personally become a scientist; it was purely by chance. When I first enrolled at the University my main aim was to get a qualification and a job thereafter, it so happened that my grades qualified me for an agricultural course.  I did a diploma first and got employed in the Ministry of Agriculture as a laboratory technician in the seed testing services section. This is a male dominated sector and I soon realized that, as a woman, in order to be recognized and taken seriously I had to work hard and prove myself which prompted me to go back to the University for my First Degree. From there I never looked back, so in a nutshell I’d say I was inspired by my male counterparts!”

When asked what she does on her leisure time, she replies that she loves spending quality time with her family, and so enjoys just chatting with her husband and children, helping the kids with school work or watching their favourite TV programmes.

Ms Nsibande enjoys seeing positive changes in people’s lives, especially when she had a role to play in making the change happen: “There is nothing more rewarding than the appreciation shown by the people whose lives you have touched in a positive way.”

When asked what many people wouldn’t know about her, she replies: “People don’t know that I am a God fearing woman and I attribute all my achievements to God and Him alone, and I know without any doubt that I would not be where I am today if it was not for Him. Oh yes, I also love laughter: a good joke and a good laugh are what keep me going!”

In concluding the interview, she was asked which indigenous plant or animal she would want to be and why: “It would definitely have to be the mushroom! Imagine taking a walk in the veld on a fine spring morning just to return three days later… and voilà! Mushrooms ready for you to pick! Not only are they fast growing, they are one of the healthiest foods under the sun, provided you know how to distinguish between the edible and poisonous types. High in protein, low in cholesterol, rich in trace minerals – a perfect mix for a healthy lifestyle and not to mention the medicinal properties possessed by some! What? Being something else is not an option for me! But be careful and wise because I may be deadly!”