The National Food Technology Research Centre (NFTRC) is geared towards generation of food technologies that enhance economic diversification, food security and quality through sustained end user focused research and development. The Head of Food Technology Department at the institution, Dr Minah Mosele offers more insight into their work.
Is the institution succeeding in its mandate – show achieved milestones?
DR. MOSELE: Successes include, but not limited to, the following: Investments on fairly equipped purpose-built laboratories and pilot plant to carry out food science research; to date the Centre has developed about 40 food processing technologies which are ready for commercialisation. To demonstrate and promote some of its developed technologies to Batswana NFTRC has established a functional spin-off Company, National Agro Processing (NAPro), in Selebi-Phikwe, whose purpose is to catalyse growth of the horticulture value chain by providing a ready market for all farmers. NFTRC has built capacity to offer competent analytical laboratory testing services, thus relieving local producers the burden of sending samples outside the country for testing. Assessed the adequacy of food safety management systems in the country and recommended interventions to authorities. Some of the key studies in progress on food safety are; surveillance of pesticides residues in fruit and vegetable at the point of sale to consumers; and determination of mycotoxins in local food grains at distribution points around the country. Study of the nutritional value of Botswana indigenous foods; Documentation of indigenous food processing technologies in selected districts of the country; Two critical child nutrition studies around the country; Development and retention of highly qualified staff members at PhD, Masters, Degree and Diploma level; Produced the Indigenous food composition tables; Development of marketable locally grown and indigenous products (dairy, veld, meat, cereals, pulses, root crops, beverages, fruits and vegetables); Product development of Tsabana; and Train 126+ people in food processing short courses per financial year. Maintained Strategic Partnerships with National and International networks i.e. Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA), Business Botswana, Local Enterprise Authority (LEA), Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA), Local Ministries, Local Universities Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio), Southern African Research & Innovation Management Association (SARIMA), Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), North-West University (NWU), Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), University of Pretoria (UP), Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rutgers University, etc
What has been the organisation’s biggest challenge?
DR. MOSELE: Insufficient budget to execute NFTRC strategy and proposed projects; Limited input base (raw materials and appropriate equipment availability in the region); Inadequate infrastructure and support systems; Low uptake of NFTRC products and services and Generally, a negative mindset among consumers to accept local foods.
What are the stand-out innovations that have emerged from the institution?
DR. MOSELE: Establishment of a spin-off Company - National Agro Processing Company (NAPro) in Selibe Phikwe), which produces a number of vegetable-based products. Competent analytical laboratory testing services offered; Product development of Tsabana and Malutu; Commercialisation of Seswaa; and many client-funded projects, particularly on commercialisation of indigenous products.
How many of these innovations are now monetised – generating commercial value for the institution and promoters?
DR. MOSELE: All our Research and Development services are monetised, i.e. laboratory testing, skill and technology transfer programme, nutritional advice services and consultancies on product development and food manufacturing process design. We are also aware that products that we developed for clients in the past, like Tsabana, Malutu, canned tripe, value-added vegetables are already in the market.
Are these products/innovations patented?
DR. MOSELE: Not necessarily. For most of the products we develop we prefer to protect as Trade Secrets and Trademarks. However, in 1999 we registered a patent on a Process for Morama Bean Product, which has not benefitted us much, though it costs us significantly.
How’s your organisation’s community-outreach – do people sufficiently know the role you are playing and the services they can get from your organisation?
DR. MOSELE: Some do, some don’t. Over the past years NFTRC have been vigorously involved in information dissemination activities for example, in the past financial year NFTRC participated in more than 30 national and international events. NFTRC has more than 11 versions of publications for general public consumption; participated in more than 11 Corporate Social Investment activities countrywide and hosted more than 15 groups of visitors in NFTRC premises in 2018/2019 . Currently working on a collaboration with Business Botswana to continue reaching out to our stakeholders.
Do you plough/produce some of the food you research on or rely solely on external suppliers?
DR. MOSELE: We rely solely on external suppliers, but giving specifications of the products we require.
Discuss the value of knowledge and the necessity of growing it?
DR. MOSELE: New knowledge lifts businesses to higher heights and gives competitive advantage.
How many researchers does your institution have and are they fully engaged?
DR. MOSELE: 40 researchers engaged through meeting the stakeholder/client requests for different services.
A feeling exists that very little has been done to set aside budgets for research. What is your take on this?
DR. MOSELE: It is not a feeling, but a fact. Data is there to proof that just in SADC as an example; most countries are performing poorly in setting aside the agreed 2% from their GDPs for science and research. Botswana is stated to be far below 1% at the moment. More could be done to capacitate institutions in the R & D space. In some instances, external funding from research grants is used to drive our mandate. In conclusion, NFTRC does its work to contribute to prioritised food value chains in the country. We promote value addition to facilitate entrepreneurship and economic diversification at large