Ompelege Matenanga: The pioneer woman fighting food insecurity in Botswana

12 Apr 2018

For Ompelege Keolopile Matenanga, Social studies has always been second nature. The twenty seven year old young adult says this all changed in 2009 when she rediscovered that Food Science was her new passion and she has never looked back since. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Technology in 2013 and is now a researcher.

With a smile on her face, Matenanga who now works as a Research Assistant for the SASSCAL Task 335 project told The Telegraph that she finds fulfillment through being able to use her knowledge and skills to inspire hope and help other people. Her duties include provision of technical and administrative support in the implementation of the project including conducting physicochemical analysis, field surveys on indigenous crops selected for the project.

SASSCAL stands for Southern African Science Service centre for Climate change and Adaptive Land management and it’s a joint initiative of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Germany in response to climate change.

“SASSCAL funded the research project I’m working on titled ‘Cultivation, value addition and marketing of climate smart emerging crops to improve food security in Botswana. The research project is housed in BUAN and has a multi- disciplinary team. The main objectives of this project are production of Emerging Crops in Botswana, Quality evaluation of raw and value added oilseed products in Botswana; capacity building and Policy Development in Botswana,” said Matenanga.

She got involved with the SASSCAL project when she was a final year student and worked on Mongongo for her research project which was one of the indigenous plants the project was working on. She investigated the nutritional composition, medicinal properties and traditional uses of Mongongo.

“I have always had a keen interest in learning about our different traditional foods in Botswana as they form part of our culture. Different foods that are part of our diet are from indigenous plant sources. Therefore it is important that we study some of these plants so that we know their nutritional quality and potential applications in pharmaceutical and food industries,” she said.

Indigenous plants, she said are very important to Batswana more especially those in rural areas as they derive their livelihood from them and they have potential to improve food security   and socio- economic statuses of Batswana; thus reducing poverty. They also form part of our environment and it is important that they are conserved and their sustainable use promoted.

 

“The SASSCAL project was therefore ideal to quench my curiosity in this area and for me to contribute to food security in Botswana in the phase of climate change.”

Matenanga works with a multi-disciplinary team which includes different disciplines such as crop physiologists, plant pathologist, agricultural economists, rural sociologist and nutritionist. She also works with communities and it is always great to be around them and exchange knowledge.

 

She said one of the benefits of the SASSCAL 335 is to empower communities by teaching them different skills like cultivation and domestication of indigenous plants, value addition and entrepreneurship, reducing effects of unemployment and poverty. The research project has sponsored post graduate students for MSc programmes promoting specialisation in different fields and enhancing human capacity development. It also has research output in terms of published papers and new technologies; which raises the status of an institution and the country. This project therefore is contributing towards BUAN being among one of the most recognized universities in agricultural sciences. Research projects also offer employment to quite a number of people. To her, the word ‘challenge’ has no meaning because what people label as challenges are to her ‘elevators’.

“For instance, there is no electricity in most rural areas where our research aids communities. But we have managed to go through all our intended stages until beneficiaries graduated at NFTRC,” she said with an ebullient smile.

On her working relations with rural communities she said, “I have worked with communities in Kaudwane, Shaikarawe and Malwelwe. They are different tribes and have different cultures and they are great people to work with. They are cooperative, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about natural resources and they are always willing to assist. So I think we make a great team.”

She said Batswana are interested and understand importance of research. They (researchers) normally exhibit their food product prototypes and research results in various national events like the agric show and they (Batswana) are always keen to know what is happening and even suggest research topics that they would want to see conducted in the country. But she still feels researchers need to promote importance of research and its benefits for the country and perhaps the government would be willing to fund different researches as they bring solutions to current problems and challenges.

She is thankful of her mentor, Dr Rosemary Kobue-Lekalake, who has so much passion for research. Working under her as the principal investigator in this project she has grown so much professionally and personally.

“There is so much that we can do as the youth of Botswana with our different skills, knowledge, abilities and talents. We just have to apply ourselves and find that which we are truly passionate about and make a difference towards a better Botswana,” she concluded.