Research being conducted to ensure that Botswana’s food industry has quality products

Dr Minah Mmoni Mosele, a Senior Research Scientist at the National Food Technology Research Centre (NFTRC).

The African Union (AU) has declared 2015 as the Year of Women. As part of this appreciation of women in society, the NEPAD Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) is profiling women who have used Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), to make a difference in the society. The series is meant to encourage gender equity and increased participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Congratulations! Strong Women doing Strong Science lead to Strong Nations. This month we are profiling Dr Minah Mmoni Mosele, a Senior Research Scientist at the National Food Technology Research Centre (NFTRC).

Dr Mosele holds a PhD in Food Science from the University of Copenhagen, a Master’s Degree in Food Processing from the University of Pretoria and a Bachelor’s Degree in Home Economics Education (Specialisation in Extension) from the University of Botswana.

Her work at the National Food Technology Research Centre (NFTRC) is focused on research and development in cereals and legumes, covering a wide range of processing technologies including malting, fermentation and heat treatments. She is currently working on four products, all based on sorghum. Two are beverages (one fermented and one malted) and the other two are composite flours for solid food products.

Her PhD was focused on characterising the chemical and structural composition of carbohydrates in marama beans (Tylosema esculentum) through proximate composition, histochemistry (microscopy), spectroscopy (FT-IR, FT-Raman and NMR), near infrared chemical imaging (NIR-CI), and high performance anion exchange-chromatography (HPAEC) with pulsed amperometric detection (PAD).

Dr Mosele is conducting research and development to benefit the farming community, SMMEs, commercial food enterprises and upcoming food entrepreneurs, covering issues such as product development, upscaling from bench to pilot scale and sensory evaluation. The research also responds to some government initiatives in the areas of food science and technology.

“People will remember or not remember you depending on whether you made an impact in their lives or not. Challenge yourself daily to make an indelible mark in the memory of everyone who crosses your path. At the end of every scientific assignment hear people admit that, had you not been part of the team, the result could have been less than what it is,” says Dr Mosele when asked what advice she has for young women in science. She believes that women have prevailed against all odds to be where they are, especially in such a male-dominated field, and she also encourages them to work hard, find a good balance between work and family, and have “me” time to re-energise, as well as to have self-confidence and take criticism with an open mind. Lastly, she says it is important to hang out with people who bring out the best in you and find oneself a mentor to learn from.

Her love for food and product development started ages ago. “I have always wanted to work with food, product development etc. since I was 19. The dream seemed evasive but finally came true. Professor Salah Mahgoub, Professor B. A. Gashe and Professor Sesae Mpuchane inspired me to follow my dream in the field of food science,” she declares. “[Currently] I have the flexibility to follow my passion in the projects that I do, without losing focus on meeting the objectives at hand. My job allows significant amount of independent thinking, which adds to intellectual growth.”

To the question of what people might not know about her, she notes after some consideration: “Some people think I don’t like taking risks, but the fact is that I prefer to take calculated risks.” When she is not in the laboratory conducting research and developing products based on indigenous grains, she is doing kitchen scale product development at home, cooking for her family, or watching forensic/instigative dramas and movies and cookery programmes such as MasterChef.

When asked what indigenous plant or animal would describe her, she replies: “If I were to be an indigenous plant I would be a morama bean plant because the plant provides food for animals and humans, from the roots, stem, leaves and seeds. Providing high value fatty acids, amino acids, carbohydrates, phytochemicals, with the potential to alleviate malnutrition, prevent cancer and boost libido. During drought, the plant hibernates, and comes up when the environmental conditions are favourable. In essence, a person should strive to be a positive influence to somebody, and know when to sit back and when to act.”