Nature, nurture and nutrition – Profiling Dr Pulane Nkhabutlane

Nature, nurture and nutrition – Profiling Dr Pulane Nkhabutlane

International Women’s Day (8th of March) is celebrated across the globe to recognise the achievements of women past, present and future. This day also acts as a reminder of the unique set of barriers women face across the world on a daily basis also in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Technology. SANBio celebrates the day for the whole week.

“I think there are still few women in science because women undermine themselves and think they cannot go further with science. Women in the rural areas also do not get enough exposure to allow them to have wide choices as they proceed with their career.” – Dr Pulane Nkhabutlane

Dr Pulane Nkhabutlane holds a PhD in Consumer Science (Food Management) from the University of Pretoria, MSc. Consumer Science (Food Management) from the University of Stellenbosch, BSc in Home Economics from the University of Swaziland, and Diploma in Home Economics Education obtained from the Lesotho Agricultural College.  “I enjoy my role as a Food Product Developer because it allows me to contribute to the improvement of other people’s lives,” she enthuses.

“I would advise [young female scientists in the field of food sciences] to aim beyond their limits. To work very hard and to focus on areas that impact health and well-being of the nation – such as Food and Nutrition. Their goal must be to innovate, reformulate and develop wholesome food products that generally have culturally acceptable sensory characteristics with improved nutritional quality,” says Dr Pulane Nkhabutlane.

Talking about role models, she says: “I personally have role models at all levels of my academic journey: Mrs. Mejaele - Morija Girls High School- My Food and Nutrition teacher,  Mr. Tiisekwa – University of Swaziland – My Food Product Development lecturer, Prof. Hoffman- University of Stellenbosch – My Meat Science Study Supervisor  and Prof. DeKock – University of Pretoria – who was my Sensory Evaluation Supervisor for my thesis.”

Dr Nkhabutlane is currently working on projects such as:

  • Development and sensory evaluation of weaning foods using indigenous vegetables in Lesotho.
  • Development and standardization of yellow maize flour and sorghum flour biscuits.
  • Development and sensory evaluation of sorghum rusks.
  • Development and sensory evaluation of prickly pear wine and prickly pear jam
  • Production of snack bars using roasted maize flour (Lipabi), pumpkin seeds and dried peaches.
  • Culinary practices: preparation of Basotho traditional breads and consumers’ perceptions about bread.
  • Acceptance of traditional foods by teenagers in Lesotho.

Dr Nkhabutlane’s research on food product development using traditional foods is aimed to improve the life of women in different ways:

  • Providing them with standardized recipes using local resources, for them to use in their households, as utilization of staple cereals for bread making could be of high significance for food security for meeting basic nutritional needs.
  • Helping women realize the importance of indigenous plants in producing exotic products that can be sold nationally and internationally in order to reduce the unemployment rate.
  • Studying the culinary practices of Basotho and their cultural practices as determinant of food acceptance could provide valuable information to nutritionists and health practitioners of the Lesotho governmental and the non-government organisations (NGO) engaged in food assistance and nutrition intervention measures in the country.

Being the first born in a family of 10 siblings, Dr Nkhabutlane assumed responsibility and developed a sharing spirit from a very young age. Her growing experience coupled with educational background helps her to give back to the community during her free time by teaching disadvantaged young mothers in her community in basic skills like sewing and cooking in order to improve their lives and to keep them engaged. She also likes reading motivational books and taking walks for exercise.

When asked our trademark question of which indigenous plant or animal she would be, she instantly replies: “I would be an aloe vera,” continuing with a list of its properties, “It is the type of plant that is very special in Lesotho, and it is found in various species. It can withstand dry climatic conditions and is therefore available throughout the year. I have seen it used by my mother for several purposes when I grew up. It can be used in the menu as juice and as an ingredient for food products because it is nutritious. It is a medicinal plant traditionally used to heal quite a number of diseases. It is also an important ingredient in body lotions and creams. It looks very attractive for landscaping purposes. I would really love to be so helpful, functional and not be easily moved by adverse conditions of life.”